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Talks aim to curb Afghan drug trade

More than 200 delegates have gathered in the Afghan capital to discuss the country's burgeoning narcotics industry, with officials hoping to raise $300 million to fight the trade which they believe fuels terrorism.

Afghanistan, the world's largest producer of opium, is hosting the conference which it hopes will reawaken donor nations to the drug issues confronting the war-ravaged nation, including increased opium production and the growing number of heroin addicts.

The executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, said before the meeting on Sunday that flourishing opium production was contributing to instability.

"The fight against terrorism will be more effective if drug trafficking is interrupted," he said, citing "mounting evidence of drug money being used to finance criminal activities, including terrorism.
"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," Costa said in a statement.

The International Conference on Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan will focus on three areas: law enforcement, alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers and demand reduction.

Sunday's opening sessions will be devoted to technical and planning meetings.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Britain's Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell and the director general of Afghanistan's Counter Narcotics Department, Mirwais Yasini, will address the conference on Monday.

Donor nations
Yasini has said Afghanistan will be looking for donor nations to contribute to its National Drug Control Strategy announced in May. Although no firm figure has been set, he said Afghanistan would be looking for something like $300 million to fund its strategy.


Afghan President Hamid Karzai
is to address the conference

The five-year plan aims to reduce opium cultivation by at least 70% by 2008, crackdown on money laundering and boost regional and international cooperation on illicit drugs.

UK, the lead nation in anti-narcotics operations in Afghanistan, has already committed about ₤70 million ($128 million) over three years to the anti-opium drive.

"This is not an issue one country can do on its own," Yasini said. "We would like the whole international community to help us."

International security

"The drugs trade in Afghanistan is threatening international security. It's threatening our interests and it's helping terrorism," he said, adding "there is interaction between Taliban, al-Qaida and drug trafficking."

"The drugs trade in Afghanistan is threatening international security. It's threatening our interests and it's helping terrorism ... there is interaction between Taliban, al-Qaida and drug trafficking"

Mirwais Yasini,
Director General, Afghanistan's Counter Narcotics Department

Afghanistan now produces more than two-thirds of the world's illicit opium supply and poppy cultivation is spreading to areas where it was never grown before, according to UNODC report released in October.

The estimated income of Afghan poppy farmers and opium traffickers is 2.3 billion dollars, much of which goes to provincial administrators and military commanders, its report said.

Three killed

Three people have been killed and six injured in factional fighting in northern Afghanistan, while elsewhere thousands of militiamen have begun to disarm.

The factional fighting was the
result of a drug dispute

Deputy Interior Minister General Hilal al-Din Hilal dismissed reports that as many as 20 had died in the violence. He said the conflict was the result of a drug dispute in the province.
"In the fighting in Badakhshan province three people have died and six have been injured," he told a news agency.

The fighting was between local commanders with decades-long grudges dating from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which ended in 1989, but the latest clashes were sparked over feuds about "drugs-related deals", Hilal said.

"Drugs business has spread out in Badakhshan province lately."

The province, which borders China and Tajikistan, is a major cultivation area for opium poppies.

Fighting ceased

On Saturday, the state news agency Bakhtar reported at least 20 people had been killed and 40 injured in three days of fighting in the remote area.

The fighting began on Thursday in the Argo district of northern Badakhshan province, 350km north of Kabul, it said.

Hilal said that the government had sent a delegation, headed by General Muhammad Ayub, to the province to investigate and to "bring the culprits to justice".

"We have managed to stop the fighting for the moment but we will be investigating the cause of the fighting," he added.

Disarming private militias, along with cracking down on the illicit opium trade, is one of the priorities for President Karzai as he attempts to extend the authority of his government to the provinces which have been troubled by factional fighting and rights abuses by commanders. 

Nato happy to ignore explosion in Afghan opium output, says Russia

Richard Norton-Taylor and agencies
Monday February 9, 2004
The Guardian

Nato is turning a blind eye to the flourishing opium trade in Afghanistan to ensure the support of warlords in the struggle to maintain security in the country, Russia's defence minister has claimed.

Sergei Ivanov said Afghanistan was now producing nine times the quantity of drugs it did under the Taliban.

"It is understandable that by allowing drug peddling in Afghanistan, the [Nato] alliance ensures loyalty of warlords on the ground and of some Afghan leaders," he said.

"Nevertheless, the drug flow from Afghanistan is posing a serious threat to the national security of all of the central Asian CIS [confederation of independent states] and Russia. It results from the absence of a truly international approach toward stabilisation in Afghanistan."

Mr Ivanov was speaking at an international security conference in Munich where Nato countries, including Britain, debated whether to increase their military presence in Afghanistan.

His comments came as at least 20 people were reported killed and 40 wounded in north-eastern Afghanistan in clashes over the payment of taxes on the opium poppy crop.

The Munich meeting coincided with an international conference in Kabul, called to discuss ways to combat the trade.

The Afghan poppy crop is estimated to be the raw material for 90% of the heroin in Britain, but little ends up in the US.

The UN estimates that Afghan opium production last year amounted to a record 3,600 tonnes - an increase of 6% on the previous year - and said that surveys of farmers suggested that a further increase was likely this year.

UN officials have voiced concern because the crop is spreading to parts of the country where it has not been grown before.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has estimated that the output could be worth $2.3bn (1.25bn). The country's total official exports to its neighbour Pakistan are worth about one-sixtieth of that.

Whitehall officials privately accuse the US of giving a low priority to the issue, as it needs the warlords to help combat Taliban and al-Qaida remnants and other Islamist fighters.

Geoff Hoon, the defence secretary, told the Munich conference that Britain had offered to lead an expanded Nato peacekeeping mission in northern Afghanistan. "We are prepared to take command of the northern region group," he said.

Officials said Britain would lead a network of Nato military teams based in five or six cities across a swath of northern territory. The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, said that five such teams of 80 to 300 soldiers could be in place by June, when national elections are due.

However, the US has made it clear that the mandate for Nato's peacekeepers would be separate from that of US troops in search of al-Qaida fighters and Osama bin Laden.

Official sources told Reuters yesterday that the latest clashes involving the opium trade involved the forces of two government commanders in the Argo district.

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press said fighting had not stopped until Sunday morning in a dispute between the two commanders about who would receive a tax on the district's poppy crop.

About 100 members of the security forces have been sent from Faizabad, the provincial capital of Badakhshan, to stop the fighting, authorities said, adding that the locals wanted the central government to step in because they did not trust provincial officials.


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