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Afghanistan's Drug Economy Is Fuelling Terrorism

Afghanistan's Drug Economy Is Fuelling Terrorism

Surging opium production in Afghanistan is contributing to instability and even terror campaigns in the war-ravaged country, the United Nations' most senior anti-drugs official said today on the eve of an international conference on the issue.

"The fight against terrorism will be more effective if drug trafficking is interrupted," said Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), citing "mounting evidence of drug money being used to finance criminal activities, including terrorism."

The UN reports that opium production has continued to grow in Afghanistan - by far the world's biggest poppy producer - despite several positive anti-drug steps by authorities recently.

A survey released by UNODC in October showed that Afghanistan's estimated opium production rose 6 per cent last year from 3,400 tons to 3,600 tons. Opium is now cultivated in 28 of the country's 32 provinces, up from 18 provinces in 1999.

A more recent survey of Afghan farmers' intentions for 2004 has revealed that the area under opium poppy cultivation could increase further this year. Already about 1.7 million Afghans, or 7 per cent of the population, are thought to be involved in the industry.

"If we don't start translating counter-narcotics commitment into lower levels of production, we run the risk of [an] opium economy undermining all that has been achieved in creating a democratic new Afghanistan," Mr. Costa warned.

In addition to addressing the International Conference on Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan, being held in Kabul on Sunday and Monday, Mr. Costa will hold direct talks with leading Afghan officials.

In today's remarks, he hailed several government measures, including Afghanistan's new anti-drug laws and the adoption of the National Drug Control Strategy, which aims to completely eliminate opium production within 10 years.

Mr. Costa also urged international security forces operating in Afghanistan to interdict narco-trafficking chains and clandestine laboratories.

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