U.N. agency to report fall in Afghan opium output

by reuters | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 8 September 2010 12:50 GMT

* Russian diplomat to take up U.N. post next week

* Seeks talks with U.S. to bridge gap on Afghan drugs

By Adrian Croft

LONDON, Sept 8 (Reuters) - A United Nations agency will report that opium poppy production has fallen in Afghanistan this year but there are enough stocks to keep supplying heroin production, the agency's new chief said on Wednesday.

Yuri Fedotov, the current Russian ambassador to Britain, takes up his post as executive director of the Vienna-based U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) on Sept. 13.

"Soon we will have good news. I understand that my office is about to issue a report which basically will say that there is a decrease this year of production of opiate poppies in Afghanistan," Fedotov told a media briefing in London.

"The bad news is that this decrease is due to natural conditions, some kind of plague (disease) that affected crops," Fedotov, a former Russian deputy foreign minister, said.

The report will show that in spite of the fall in opium poppy production sufficient stocks had been accumulated over the past years to continue to produce heroin, he said.

The UNODC publishes regular reports on the drug trade in Afghanistan, which produces more than 90 percent of the world's illegal opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin.

Western countries say the drug trade funds the insurgency against NATO troops and the Afghan government.

The UNODC said in February that efforts to persuade Afghanistan's farmers to stop growing illegal opium had failed in the previous year. It predicted as much land would be under poppy cultivation this year as in 2009.

HALTS DECLINING TREND

That halted a trend of curbing cultivation that had seen land planted with poppies cut by more than a third from 2007-09.

Over the past several years, Afghanistan has consistently managed to produce thousands of tonnes more than the entire global demand for the illegal drug, despite an international effort to stamp it out.

Most of Afghanistan's opium is grown in Helmand province, the most violent region where thousands of U.S. and British troops are based.

Russian officials have criticised NATO forces for failing to halt drug trafficking from Afghanistan.

In June, Russia put forward an initiative to stem Afghan drug-trafficking, including a comprehensive crackdown on opium poppy growing, but the United States gave it a cool reception.

U.S. troops have begun paying opium poppy farmers to destroy their crops, instead of NATO troops destroying the poppy, to try to avoid alienating the farmers.

Russia is the world's largest per capita heroin consumer with an estimated 30,000 people dying of abuse annually.

Fedotov said all countries agreed efforts were needed to eliminate the serious danger posed by Afghan drugs.

"Countries may differ on the tactics, but it doesn't mean they disagree in principle," he said, stressing he was now an international civil servant rather than a Russian official.

"I look forward on my next visit to the United States to have more meaningful discussions in Washington and to see clearly how UNODC can help to bridge the gap and to move ahead with a positive agenda for Afghan drugs, including (reducing) the production of opium in Afghanistan," he said. (Editing by Giles Elgood)

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