The Straits Times (Singapore)
UN anti-drug drive to focus on Afghan opium

By R. Senthilnathan
in Vienna

ERADICATING opium poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and setting up a "security belt" around that country to arrest the spill-over effect will be a top priority of the United Nations anti-drug programme in the coming two years.

According to newly released data, the UN Drug Control Programme intends to double its expenditure in the Central and West Asian region -- which includes Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan as well as the Central Asian countries of former Soviet Union -- to US$24 million (S$39.3 million) in 1998-99.

More than half the programme's 1998-99 budget -- US$13.2 million -- will to go towards crop eradication in Afghanistan, which is among the major opium producers and source of four-fifths of the heroin seized in Europe.

This is more than twice the US$6.5 million spent during 1996-97.

The security belt around Afghanistan is to ensure that its neighbours -- Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- will not be used as transit countries for Europe-bound heroin and morphine.

Afghanistan is a top priority after reports of increased cultivation of opium there and the slow, but certain involvement of neighbouring countries in the drug trade.

The programme's most recent survey in Afghanistan estimated that opium poppy production in 1996-97 rose to 2,800 tonnes, almost 25 per cent up on the previous year.

This is 25 per cent more than opium produced in the other part of the Golden Triangle -- Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Mr Bernard Frahi, the UN drug programme's chief for the region, said that ideal weather had played a role in boosting Afghan opium production.

There were signs that some farmers had used agricultural equipment and fertiliser given as part of international rehabilitation programmes to produce opium.

UN officials are worried that negative effects of Afghan opium production are extending beyond the producer and end-user countries and is affecting neighbouring countries, which are vulnerable because they lack drug control expertise.

The programme will increase spending to US$6.6 million to help neighbours set up border checks and improve airport detection of drugs in the next two years.