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Afghan Leader Seeks Help to Fight Drugs

February 9, 2004

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ President Hamid Karzai appealed Monday for more international help to fight drugs, amid warnings Afghanistan is fast becoming a ``narco-state″ and the trade is financing terrorism.

Karzai told an international anti-drugs conference that opium production threatened economic recovery, security and even Islam, on which he said the country’s hopes of ending nearly a quarter-century of violence rest.

``Poppy cultivation destroys all three,″ he told Afghan leaders, foreign diplomats, military officers and counter-narcotics experts. ``We need more help and assistance.″

Production of opium _ the raw material for heroin _ has boomed in the two years since a U.S.-led offensive ousted the Taliban regime for sheltering al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden.

U.N. surveys estimate Afghanistan accounted for three quarters of the world’s opium last year, and the trade brought in $2.3 billion, more than half of the nation’s gross domestic product. New surveys suggest even more will be planted this year.

Afghan officials, with advice from Britain and the United States, have outlined a plan to eradicate production in 10 years amid concern that al-Qaida and the resurgent Taliban are profiting from the trade. But diplomats concede that so far progress has been feeble and time is running out.

``The progress made thus far is inadequate,″ said Mohammad Reza Amirkhizi, the Afghanistan representative of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

``The need for prompt action cannot be overemphasized if we are to get a grip before Afghanistan turns into a narco-state.″

U.N. surveys estimate Afghan opium production rose to 3,968 tons last year.

The conference is supposed to drum up funding commitments to help poor farmers switch to alternative crops and build a modern judicial system.

Afghan officials are vowing to destroy huge amounts of crops and arrest big smugglers in coming months. The United Nations and donors are also trying to build a crack Afghan counter-narcotics police.

But there are doubts about the ability of the Afghan government to take on powerful warlords who control much of the country and are widely believed to fund their private armies with drug money. Some warlords also hold public office.

Western officials hope plans for the U.S. military and NATO-led peacekeepers to operate in a host of provincial capitals to improve security and reconstruction will make it safer for drug enforcement teams to operate.

Last month U.S. warplanes destroyed a drugs lab in northern Badakhshan province _ where clashes between rival warlords over the drugs trade have left as many as 12 people dead since late last week, officials say.

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