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Afghan opium market slumps: UN.

KABUL (PAN): The current year has seen a 22 per cent drop in poppy cultivation and a 10 per cent fall in production in Afghanistan that accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's total opium, the United Nations said here on Wednesday.

The United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) chief said opium prices had plunged to a 10-year low. "Wholesale (farm gate) prices in Afghanistan have fallen by a third in the past year: from $70/kg to $48/kg for fresh opium; from $95/kg to $64/kg for the dry variety.

" In the war-devastated, opium prices have not been this low since the late 1990s, when the Taliban were in power. "At a time of pessimism about the situation in Afghanistan, these results are a welcome piece of good news and demonstrate that progress is possible." UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, releasing the Afghan Opium Survey for 2009, revealed the number of poppy-free provinces had gone up to 20 from 18.

More drugs are being seized due to stepped-up operations by Afghan and foreign forces. Poppy cultivation fell to 123,000 hectares (303,810 acres) as average farm-gate prices for dry opium plummeted 34 percent to $64 a kilogram, according to the annual study that pointed out the 2009 harvest yielded up to 6,900 metric tons, enough to make about 1,000 metric tonnes of heroin.

"The bottom is starting to fall out of the Afghan opium market," remarked Costa, who hastened to warn drugs in the country still had catastrophic consequences in terms of funding sources for criminals and insurgents. Lower opium prices in Afghanistan reflect the continuing high levels of opium production, thought to exceed global demand for opium and its derivatives. Annual world demand for illicit opium had never exceeded 5,000 tons, the document explained. According to the 42-page report, the most significant decrease happened in Helmand, known as Afghanistan's drug capital, where cultivation declined by a third -- from 103,590 hectares in 2008 to 69,833 this year.

The fall was set down to strong leadership by the governor and a more aggressive counter-narcotics offensive.

However, the province continues to account for nearly 60% of the country's total production of the drug. Costa warned: "A marriage of convenience between insurgents and criminal groups is spawning narco-cartels in Afghanistan linked to the Taliban." He observed the drug trade in Afghanistan had gone from being a funding source for insurgency to becoming an end in itself. "Drug money is addictive and is starting to trump ideology," argued the UNODC chief, who reiterated his call for reporting to the UN Security Council the drug cartels linked to terrorism. "Drug lords should be brought to justice -- not executed in violation of international law or pardoned for political expediency." He stressed the need for a regional approach to tackle the Afghan opium threat, saying: "The focus on Af-Pak is welcome, but we need to widen the scope to Iran and Central Asia as well.

"That is why UNODC has brokered a Trilateral Initiative among Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan to share counter-narcotics intelligence and run joint operations. It has also created a Central Asia Intelligence Centre, headquartered in Almaty, Kazakhstan."

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Publication:Pajhwok Afghan News (Kabul, Afghanistan)
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:Sep 2, 2009
Words:552
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