Washington, 4 June 1998 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations is sponsoring a global summit of government leaders to combat illegal drugs worldwide.
U.N. officials say representatives from 185 countries will participate in a General Assembly special session on the problems of narcotics. It will be held in New York from next Monday through Wednesday.
The meeting is expected to be the largest gathering ever held aimed at fighting illegal drug trafficking and abuse.
Under-Secretary General Pino Arlacchi says more than 30 presidents and prime ministers are scheduled to attend the summit, including senior government officials from the United States, France, Britain, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, the Kyrgyz Republic, Mexico, Colombia, Italy, Canada, Bolivia, Peru and Spain.
Arlacchi is executive director of the U.N. international drug control program and the U.N. office of drug control and crime prevention. He says a "grand alliance of nations can and will conquer the global plague of drugs."
U.N. officials say the drug summit marks a critical juncture in the fight against drug supply and demand. They say that for the first time national leaders will gather to work out a global strategy to control drugs.
Among issues to be dealt with are money laundering, extradition of drug traffickers and the sharing of information on drug cartels.
Arlacchi, who will head the meeting, calls narcotics and organized crime the "major threats to the world in the next century."
U.N. officials say the time is right for a drug summit. They cite the erosion of East-West and North-South barriers to cooperation and the blurring of previous policy differences between those nations who produce and consume drugs.
Arlacchi says: "This is a fight that can be won given the political will illustrated by the international community's participation in this drug summit."
The U.N. official, who previously served as a leading strategist in the Italian government's campaign against the Mafia, says coca leaf and opium poppy production could be eliminated in little more than a decade.
The U.N. estimates that nearly 5,000 tons of illicit opium was produced worldwide in 1997. Opium is a key ingredient for heroin.
In terms of area under cultivation, the U.N. estimates that last year about 270,000 hectares were used with Afghanistan and Myanmar being the main sources. Together these two countries accounted for 80 percent of global area under opium poppy cultivation.
Most of the world's illicit cocaine comes from Peru, Colombia and Bolivia. The U.N. estimates that last year about 73,000 hectares were used for cultivation of opium, producing more than 300,000 tons of coca leaf.
The U.S. government estimates that annual cocaine sales total 30,000 million dollars in the United States, by far the largest consuming nation of the illegal drug.
Officials say illicit cultivation of cannabis is more widespread than opium poppy and coca leaf. They say that the largest areas under growth of cannabis are found in the countries of the former Soviet Union, notably Russia, Kazakhstan and other Central Asian countries.