Drug war info
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan says its war on drugs is the top priority after a U.N. report warned it risked becoming a narco-state with opium cultivation jumping to record levels, but it says it opposes aerial spraying of opium fields.
Afghan opium cultivation jumped 64 percent to a record 324,000 acres this year and drug exports now account for more than 60 percent of the economy, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said on Thursday.
It said opium, the raw material for heroin, was grown in all 32 provinces and 10 percent of the population, or 2.3 million people, were involved in a business worth $2.8 billion (1.5 billion pounds) a year.
"The fear that Afghanistan might degenerate into a narco-state is slowly becoming a reality as corruption in the public sector, the die-hard ambition of local warlords, and the complicity of local investors are becoming a factor in Afghan life," said the office's executive director, Antonio Maria Costa.
London has been in charge of an international effort to control Afghanistan's drug output, which has soared to near record levels since the overthrown of the Taliban in late 2001.
Afghan government spokesman Jawed Ludin said the drug war would be the top priority of the new government being formed by President Hamid Karzai after his election victory last month, "perhaps more important than terrorism".
However, he expressed concern about recent reports that some areas of the poppy growing province of Nangarhar in eastern Afghanistan had been subjected to aerial spraying.
"We are fully committed to the eradication of poppy fields and we will do it with much more efficacy and impact in the future," he said. "But we have made clear to our partners in the international community we don't agree with aerial spraying."
Ludin said the government had sent experts to investigate the spraying reports, given concerns about health effects and reports that children had suffered diarrhoea and skin rashes.
HELICOPTERS IN THE NIGHT
Faizanulhaq, a spokesman for the governor of Nangarhar, said investigators had found that unidentified helicopters had sprayed two districts, Achin and Khogiani, on November 7.
"People said they heard the sound of helicopters at night, but they could not tell where they came from," he said.
The U.S. military has the most helicopters in Afghanistan, but has denied using them to spray crops.
A spokesman, Major Mark McCann, said the military was "not involved in the eradication business" but added that troops were authorised to destroy or confiscate drugs if they came across them in the course of routine operations against militants.
Afghanistan now accounts for 87 percent of global heroin production. Much of its output goes to Europe.
The Washington Post said this month the United States had devised a more aggressive strategy aimed at greater eradication, crop substitution and prosecution of traffickers.
The Post said funding the effort would require shifting more than $700 million from other programmes in Afghanistan to counter-narcotics in 2005, against $123 million spent by the Pentagon and State Department in 2004.
Ludin said the government believed the eradication effort should as much as possible be left in the hands of Afghans, while more international aid should be channelled into creating alternative crops and livelihoods for opium farmers.
"No eradication efforts will work unless they are accompanied by proper alternatives. The farmers will defend their fields with their lives unless they have alternative ways to make a living."
I have heard him speak of the Ireland he wished to see. When he struck the spark on the anvil, he struck the anvil in my heart. When I leave school, the only pursuit I want to engage in is the winning of the freedom of my country. Michael Collins