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UN: Report Author Warns Of Ties Between Drugs And Terrorism In Russia, Central Asia

  • Eugen Tomiuc --> Prague, 29 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Thomas Pietschmann is research officer at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). He is also one of the main authors of the World Drug Report 2005, which was issued today. Pietschmann talked to RFE/RL about the report and the role of Afghanistan, Central Asia, and Russia in the global drug market. Pietschmann said drug production has links to crime, terrorism, and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

RFE/RL: How did the situation change since last year’s UN drug report? Has there been any improvement?

PIETSCHMANN: For the main problem-drugs -- opiates and cocaine -- we see only marginal increases in terms of production, which is good news. Now, of course, if you look at the regional distribution, things look quite different. With regard to the opiates, we see massive increases of production -- we speak about 2004 -- in Afghanistan, which fortunately was offset by a very strong decline in the Golden Triangle, by Myanmar and Laos. So, the net increase was very small but, still, Afghanistan is a major problem. However, what we also point out in the report is that the situation in Afghanistan seems to be getting better for the year 2005 with regard to the area under cultivation. We don't have any of the production figures [yet], but the area under cultivation seems to decline this year. So this is some of the good news we're bringing.

RFE/RL: And what’s the bad news regarding Afghanistan?

PIETSCHMANN: The problem is the yield. The yield in Afghanistan this year will be much better than last year. Last year was a bad year for the yield. So we are not in the position at the moment to say what the net output will be from Afghanistan. It could well be of similar magnitude as last year simply because the yield is likely to increase and unfortunately there are indications that the yield is increasing.

RFE/RL: One of the favorite routes for traffickers of Afghan drugs is transiting Central Asia. What is the situation in the countries in that region?

PIETSCHMANN: When it comes to a route out of Afghanistan, still, the main route is via Pakistan and via Iran. Still, Central Asia is definitely the fastest-growing region with regard to the output of Afghan opiates. Consumption, unfortunately, is clearly increasing in Central Asia. We have not really seen local production of opiates, [but] there is local production of cannabis in the area. It's good and bad news: the good news is, there is not or there is hardly any production there, but of course, this is partly bad news, because there's abundant supply from Afghanistan, so it's simply just not necessary to produce locally.

RFE/RL: Many international observers are pointing to an increasingly visible connection between drug trafficking and terrorism, chiefly in Afghanistan. What can you tell us about this?

PIETSCHMANN: Production is, of course, increasing in those areas where the central government in Kabul does not have influence. And it's very clear that in these areas where local [Afghan] warlords are in charge, they are the main beneficiaries of the drug production and part of this money definitely goes to remnants of various terrorist groups in the country. We get more and more information about this link but, of course, to really give a concrete number about how many millions of dollars are being diverted to terrorists, this is very difficult.

RFE/RL: There has been a clear connection between the use of injecting drugs -- like heroin -- and HIV/AIDS. Russia and Ukraine were singled out in recent years as facing the greatest threat of drug-related AIDS epidemics. Has there been any improvement?

PIETSCHMANN: Where there's a major problem, it is on the abuse side -- particularly high in Russia when it comes to opiates -- and with this link to the abuse of opiates is the injecting of opiates and thus the spread of HIV/AIDS. So it has, compared to Western Europe, dramatically high rates of new infections of HIV/AIDS. So there's almost a time bomb in this part [of the world], because it'll only take a few years' time until these HIV infections will actually translate into an outbreak of AIDS. A little bit of good news is that the infection rates there have declined over the last few years -- or seem to have declined; we don't know exactly if it's just a reported issue or if it's a real issue -- but at least there are some positive developments over here.

RFE/RL: Does the 2005 world drug report outline any direction for policymakers to follow in order to fight the drugs trade and drug-related issues?

PIETSCHMANN: We are not here, in this report, to give the famous key to the solution of all problems. But it's very clear that there's a clear link between drugs and HIV/AIDS, so the moment you succeed in reducing drugs consumption, drug abuse, there's also a likelihood that you actually are going to reduce HIV/AIDS. We also analyze the drug markets, the size of the drug markets, which is, I think, highly relevant for policy. Even so, we are not giving any concrete recommendations. But of course, if you ask me personally, it's very clear where we have to go. There has to be assistance to farmers in the poppy- or coca-growing areas, more than what's been done so far. This has to go hand-in-hand with very strict law enforcement. This combination, I think, is a must. Otherwise, I think it does just not work. But, also, law enforcement alone by itself does not work. So it's really the combination of the two. And what's also very clear is that as long as you have a demand, you will have production.