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UN: Officials Make New Appeals For Security, Drug Control In Afghanistan

UN officials have again presented the UN Security Council with sobering updates about conditions in Afghanistan. The heads of the UN's peacekeeping and drug control departments called for beefed up security and a renewed commitment to help Afghanistan establish rule of law, saying the country's future and regional stability are at stake. Council members vowed to coordinate anti-drug trafficking efforts and to press ahead with reforms of the Afghan police and army sectors. But there was no immediate signal that the international force in Afghanistan would be expanded.

United Nations, 18 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Senior UN officials have called for intensified international efforts to overcome insecurity and opium production in Afghanistan, saying they threaten both Afghan and regional stability.

The head of UN peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guehenno, and the director of the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, delivered reports to the UN Security Council yesterday that highlighted the inadequacy of some security efforts in the past 18 months.

Guehenno repeated appeals that have been made for months by UN and Afghan officials for international security forces to be deployed outside of the Kabul area. Citing new attacks on UN and other international workers, Guehenno said one-third of the country is currently inaccessible to the UN.

He said this is hampering reconstruction projects and the UN-led effort to prepare the way for the constitutional Loya Jirga, elections, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration.

"While national Afghan institutions are ultimately the answer, further deployment of international security elements, of a reasonable size and able to project credible strength, are needed to provide the security environment and confidence for the Bonn process to move forward to its natural conclusion," Guehenno said.

Guehenno welcomed the U.S. deployment of Provincial Reconstruction Teams in the centers of Gardez, Bamiyan, and Kunduz. But he said at current levels, they cannot safeguard the political and economic reform goals set out by the international community for Afghanistan.

The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Negroponte, cited the stabilizing impact of the teams, each numbering about 100 soldiers trained in reconstruction projects. He said the United States plans to set up eight teams throughout Afghanistan and possibly more.

In addition, Britain has agreed to set up a reconstruction team in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, and Germany will also establish one, possibly in the western city of Herat.

While expressing concern at security problems, Security Council members gave no immediate signal of support for expanding the International Security Assistance Force beyond Kabul.

Negroponte said the U.S.-led coalition based in Afghanistan will also continue to press its campaign against the remnants of Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces, which appear to have been recently strengthened.

But Negroponte acknowledged the inadequacy of international efforts to eradicate Afghanistan's opium cultivation. "The resurgence of opium poppy cultivation further erodes the security environment in Afghanistan and threatens reconstruction efforts. The message here is that we should do more, and we should do it better," Negroponte said.

The UN drug control chief, Costa, told Security Council members that Afghanistan is expected to remain the world's main source of opium in the years ahead. He pointed to the continuing economic incentive for poor Afghan farmers and the well-organized trafficking network from Afghanistan through Central Asia into Europe.

Costa said Afghanistan's transitional administration will need international help to implement its newly adopted national drug control strategy. He said this should involve efforts such as helping Afghan farmers convert to legal crops and establishing micro-lending programs to replace the practice of drug dealers extending credit. He also called for neutralizing the efforts of the country's regional warlords to maintain the drug trade.

Costa also urged coordinated efforts by Afghanistan and its neighbors against drug trafficking, clandestine laboratories, and the shipping of precursor chemicals used in those labs.

"National efforts are not enough. Hence, the convergent efforts by neighboring countries, through which narcotics are exported, and by Europe and Russia, where heroin abuse helps nourishing opium cultivation in Afghanistan, are needed," Costa said.

U.S. and other officials have expressed particular concern about improving security along Afghanistan's long border with Pakistan to reduce both drug trafficking and the transit of terrorists.

Pakistan has made major progress in eradicating the cultivation of opium poppies within its borders but now has a serious drug addiction problem. Pakistan's deputy ambassador to the UN, Masood Khalid, told the Security Council that international assistance must be maintained in his country.

"Neighboring states like Pakistan are in the frontline of the war against drugs and face the brunt of its consequences. It is they who require, after Afghanistan, the most assistance in counter-narcotics, especially in bolstering their law enforcement capacities," Khalid said.

UN drug control chief Costa also highlighted the problem of corrupt government officials along the trafficking routes, especially port, airport, and customs employees. He said they have turned the old Silk Road into an "opium-paved road."