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States Opium is Gone from Afghanistan
UN: OPIUM GONE FROM AFGHANISTAN TALIBAN'S EDICT ENDS NATION'S ROLE AS
WORLD’S LEADING PRODUCER
By Kathy Gannon
February 16, 2001
JALALABAD, Afghanistan UN drug control officers said the Taliban religious militia has virtually wiped out opium production in Afghanistan--once the world's largest producer--since banning poppy cultivation in July.
A 12-member team from the UN Drug Control Program spent two weeks searching most of the nation’s largest opium-producing areas and found so few poppies that they do not expect any opium to come out of Afghanistan this year.
“We are not just guessing. We have seen the proof in the fields,” said Bernard Frahi, regional director for the UN program in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He laid out photographs of vast tracts of land cultivated with wheat alongside pictures of the same fields taken a year earlier--a sea of blood-red poppies.
A State Department official said Thursday all the information the United States has received so far indicates the poppy crop had decreased, but he did not believe it was eliminated.
Last year, Afghanistan produced nearly 4,000 tons of opium, about 75 percent of the world’s supply, UN officials said. Opium--the milky substance drained from the poppy plant--is converted into heroin and sold in Europe and North America. Afghanistan’s 2000 output was a world record for opium production, the United Nations said, and accounted for more than all other countries combined, including the “Golden Triangle,” where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.
Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban’s supreme leader, banned poppy growing before the November planting season and augmented it with a religious edict making it contrary to the tenets of Islâm.
The Taliban, which has imposed a strict brand of Islâm in the 95 percent of Afghanistan it controls, has set fire to heroin laboratories and jailed farmers until they agreed to destroy their poppy crops.
The UN surveyors, who completed their search this week, crisscrossed Helmand, Kandahar, Urzgan and Nangarhar provinces and parts of two other areas that were responsible for 86 percent of the opium produced in Afghanistan last year, Frahi said Wednesday. They covered 80 percent of the land in those provinces that last year had been awash in poppies.
This year they found poppies growing on barely an acre here and there, Frahi said. The rest of the nearly 175,000 acres was clean.
“We have to look at the situation with careful optimism,” said Sandro Tucci of the UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention.
He said indications are that no poppies were planted this season and that, as a result, there hasn’t been any production of opium but added that officials would keep checking.
A State Department counternarcotics official said the department would make its own estimate of the poppy crop. Information received so far suggests there will be a decrease, but how much is not yet clear, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We do not think by any stretch ... that poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has been eliminated. But we, like the rest of the world, welcome positive news,” he said.
The Drug Enforcement Administration declined to comment.
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