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Global Help Needed To Fight Opium Production

UN Calls For Global Help In Afghanistan's Battle Against Rising Opium Production

Alarmed by the massive growth in opium production this year in Afghanistan, the United Nations crime fighting agency today called on the international community to do more in that country's battle against the illicit drug trade or risk a reversal of recent gains there and it becoming a "narco-state."

"In Afghanistan, drugs are now a clear and present danger," said Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), at the launch of the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004 at a press briefing in Brussels.

"With 131,000 hectares dedicated to opium farming, this year Afghanistan has established a double record - the highest drug cultivation in the country's history, and the largest in the world," he added.

Compared to last year, opium cultivation in Afghanistan has increased by 64 per cent, according to the survey. Despite bad weather and disease, the country produced a total of 4,200 tons of opium in 2004.

Mr. Costa praised Afghanistan for making political progress, but doubted if it could be sustained in the wake of the growth of a narco-economy. "We all salute President [Hamid] Karzai for his courage and determination," he said. "Yet, opium cultivation, which has spread like wildfire throughout the country, could ultimately incinerate everything -democracy, reconstruction and stability."

Voicing his belief that there were "strong links" between drugs and terrorism in Afghanistan, Mr. Costa said the international community, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the US-led coalition forces and donors should help the Afghan Government to reduce poverty as well as back military operations against traffickers.

Noting that in the past three years drug production has decreased elsewhere in the world, Mr. Costa suggested that the opium economy in Afghanistan could only be dismantled with democracy, the rule of law and economic improvement. "It will be a long and difficult process," he said. "It cannot be done ruthlessly as it was done by the Taliban, nor with mindless disregard for the county's poverty."

Meanwhile, at a press briefing in New York, UNODC representative Vincent McClean said drug trafficking from Afghanistan was causing a great deal of concern in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan, where millions of people had fallen victim to heroin addiction.

"Drug trafficking poses a clear threat to the national security in Afghanistan," he said, adding that about 11 million people were addicted to heroin in that country.

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