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Pressure for tougher Afghan anti-drugs drive – UN

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By Mark John

BRUSSELS, Sept 5 (Reuters) – Pressure is growing on Afghan President Hamid Karzai to get tough on his country’s burgeoning opium industry with methods such as aerial spraying, the head of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Wednesday.

A switch to aerial eradication of poppy crops would mark a policy U-turn for Karzai, who has favoured a softer approach to a sector that many Afghans rely on for survival but which is now seen increasingly as fuelling the country’s insurgency.

However, NATO said its 40,000-strong Afghan peace force was not mandated to undertake eradication and stressed the method was just one element of a long-term strategy to fight drugs.

“There is very strong pressure building up in favour of aerial eradication in that part of Afghanistan,” UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said of the south of the country, which accounted for most of this year’s record drug production.

“The government has not decided yet and we will support the government in whatever it decides to do,” he told a news conference in Brussels after presenting a U.N. report showing a rise in Afghan opium production to NATO chiefs.

Costa cited a call by Afghan First Vice-President Ahmad Zia Masood this week to use aerial spraying, and said officials at the United Nations and countries involved in Afghan reconstruction were now coming round to the same view.

The UNODC report released last week showed the area of Afghan land where opium poppies are grown rose by 17 percent to 193,000 hectares in 2007 from 165,000 last year and this year’s harvest was 8,200 tonnes, up from 6,100 tonnes in 2006.

Afghanistan produces 93 percent of the world’s opium, making it the largest producer of narcotics since 19th century China and highlighting the failure of Afghan and British-led international efforts to tackle the problem.

“A FARCE”

Costa noted that aerial spraying had proved successful in helping Colombia rein in cocaine production and reiterated his view that eradication from the ground, as favoured so far by the Karzai government, was not working.

“Ground eradication has been ineffective, I have called it a farce,” Costa said of a method which can also involve spraying herbicide but is seen as slower than doing so by air and also puts those involved at greater risk of attack.

Costa said the anti-drug effort was being hit by corruption within the Afghan security forces. He urged NATO and other bodies to help strangle the industry, for example by choking the transport routes vital to both the manufacture and distribution of opium and the final product, heroin.

NATO, which has long insisted it should have only a support role to the Afghan government’s anti-drug drive, said it was looking at how it could step up help, but insisted it was for other international agencies to do more.

“We are doing the best we can, we would ask others to do more,” NATO Deputy Assistant Secretary-General for Operations Jim Pardew told the same news conference.

“The fight against narcotics is first and foremost an Afghan responsibility but they need help.”

NATO spokesman James Appathurai said: “NATO is not mandated to be an eradication force, nor is it proposed. Eradication is one part of a complex strategy.”

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Written by afghandevnews

September 5, 2007 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Drugs

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