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UN Chief Says Afghan Opium Trade Growing Stronger


Efforts to curb Afghanistan's opium crop have had little impact.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says the world is failing to eradicate the drug trade in Afghanistan, where opium production has grown by 61 percent in the past year.

Speaking at a conference in Vienna on reducing the production and flow of drugs from Afghanistan, Ban said export earnings from Afghan opiates were worth as much as $2.4 billion and account for 15 percent of Afghanistan's gross domestic product.

The UN chief said resolving the problem is not up to Afghanistan alone.

"Reducing supply is only half the story," he said. "There can be no real success without reducing demand. The fight against the drug trade goes to the heart of UN efforts in Afghanistan, in the region, and indeed around the world to make a meaningful difference for people affected by this pervasive crime."

The Vienna conference is being attended by top political and drugs officials from 50 countries around the world.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country is one of the primary destinations for Afghan-made drugs, said it was the responsibility of the Kabul government and foreign troops still based in the country to do more to fight opium harvesting and drug production.

"A top-priority task is the destruction of narco-settlements and the infrastructure for the production of drugs," Lavrov said. "It has to be a real priority in the practical work of the international security forces -- of course, in close contact with the Afghan government."

Afghanistan's minister for counternarcotics, Zarar Ahmad Muqbel Osmani, said his country's drug problem can only be eradicated if security in the country is improved.

He said the Taliban militia, in its 10th year of war against Afghan and international forces, is the primary benefactor of the trade.

"Reports indicated that the Taliban have been making $155 million annually from opium production and drug trafficking," Osmani said.

The Associated Press cites an advance copy of the meeting's final declaration as saying Afghanistan's drug problem "continues to be a serious concern" and that drug revenues are funding "corruption, organized crime, and in some cases... terrorist activities and insurgency."

The conference comes as the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, is meeting with his counterparts from Pakistan and Iran for a two-day summit in Islamabad on counterterrorism efforts and measures to combat the drug trade.

Compiled from agency reports