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Turkmenistan Steps Up Drug Fight After Opium-Poppy Field Discovery

Karakum Desert: not all sand and scenery

Karakum Desert: not all sand and scenery

ASHGABAT -- Turkmenistan has increased its public battle against drugs after opium-poppy fields were discovered during a regional visit by the president, RFE/RL's Turkmen Service reports.

State-run Turkmen media reported that poppy fields were uncovered during President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov's visit to gas fields in the central Karakum Desert last week.

The fields were destroyed and Berdymukhammedov has since ordered officials in the country's five provinces to take strict measures to find and destroy other such poppy fields.

The stepped-up battle against poppies includes meetings on the subject organized by state-run public organizations in Turkmenistan, including the Galkynysh national movement, religious group leaders, and youth clubs.

Turkmen media reports that law enforcement agencies and the State Service for Fighting Drugs have begun a large-scale antidrug operation called "Opium-2010" in parts of the Karakum Desert, which covers some 70 percent of Turkmenistan.

Officials claim that during this operation poppy fields were destroyed in remote regions such as Darwaza, Bokurdak, Bori, Ataguyi, and Yerbent. Turkmen TV shows people suspected of being involved in drug production confessing to crimes.

Jepbarov Bayramberdi, a resident of Ruhabat in the central Akhal Province, said in an alleged televised confession that he made "a big mistake" by growing opium in his fields and "will never do it again."

Sanobar Shermatova, a Moscow-based expert on Central Asia, told RFE/RL that poppy cultivation and opium production is on the increase in Central Asian countries.

"We receive information about the operation of heroin-production plants in Central Asian countries similar to those in Afghanistan, which allows [Turkmenistan] to void importing drugs from Afghanistan," she said.