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UN: Report Cites Surge In Afghan Opium Output, Sparks Concern Over Turkmenistan

In its annual report, the International Narcotics Control Board notes a surge of opium production in Afghanistan to record levels and expresses concern over Turkmenistan's continued lack of cooperation with the international community in the fight against illicit drugs.

United Nations, 3 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) remains seriously concerned that despite commitment and efforts by the Afghan Transitional Administration, increasingly widespread illicit cultivation of opium poppy is taking place.

In 2003, the report said illicit opium-poppy cultivation had spread to new areas, although a decrease was noted in the traditional poppy-growing provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Nangarhar, and Oruzgan.

The reports notes that drug trade in Afghan opiates generates funds that corrupt institutions, finance terrorism and insurgency, and lead to a destabilization of the region. Opium is used to make heroin and other illegal drugs.

"Governments need to adopt measures to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS, measures such as needle-exchange schemes for injecting drug users but [should ensure] that those measures should not promote or facilitate drug abuse."
In 2001, the INCB initiated Operation Topaz, an international monitoring operation focusing on acetic anhydride, a critical chemical used in the manufacture of heroin. The report notes with satisfaction that Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan joined Operation Topaz in 2003. But the board expressed deep concern over continued noncooperation on the part of Turkmenistan.

Vincent McClean, who is the New York representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said that the INCB is trying to involve Turkmenistan in its activities but so far without much success. "Various steps have been taken to integrate [Turkmenistan] with the drug-control measures that are being taken and [the report] talks about a number of cooperative activities, but it does in that paragraph urge Turkmenistan to strengthen its regional cooperation efforts and to join the international community in the fight against drugs," he said.

The INCB is also concerned that Turkmenistan has failed to take part in several regional and sub-regional drug-control activities and that the country was not actively participating in those cooperation arrangements that it had formally joined. The active cooperation of Turkmenistan, a country that shares a 700-kilometer border with Afghanistan, is seen as essential for the success of global efforts to prevent smuggling of illicit drugs.

Gregory D. Lee is a former supervisory special agent for the U.S. Department of Justice's Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). He is the author of "Global Drug Enforcement: Practical Investigative Techniques" and spent a number of years during his active career in Central Asia. Lee told RFE/RL that lack of cooperation on the part on Turkmenistan may be the result of a different view among Turkmen officials on stopping the drug trade.

"There's a possibility that they look at it as a trade issue. There's also the aspect of how do you enforce something when you don't have the means to do it? Their law-enforcement structure could be such that they don't have the training or the background, or they don't perceive it as a problem in their own nation that will warrant expending time and money and resources to help other nations when they have so many problems on their own," Lee said.

The INCB report says that the use of injection drugs is the major driver of HIV/AIDS epidemics in a number of countries. In the Russian Federation and Eastern Europe, McClean said something like 90 percent of new infections are caused by injecting drugs and sharing needles. It's also the major cause of HIV/AIDS infection in China, where there's a burgeoning epidemic.

"Governments need to adopt measures to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS, measures such as needle-exchange schemes for injecting drug users but [should ensure] that those measures should not promote or facilitate drug abuse," McClean said.

The INCB report says that Central Asia suffers from widespread drug trafficking, yet it has relatively low levels of violent drug-related crime. That may be due to strong family ties and the influence of strict social norms. However, the report says evidence suggests that this picture might be changing.

The INCB notes in its report the increasing use of the Internet and postal services for illicit trade in narcotics and psychotropic substances, including the smuggling of drugs diverted from domestic distribution channels.

The full text of the report can be found at