U.N. Agency: Afghanistan's Opium Production 'Out of Control'

Afghanistan's opium production has soared "out of control," the U.N. drugs and crime agency warned Tuesday, adding that proceeds from the opium harvest were being used to fund the resurgent Taliban.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime is calling on NATO and Afghan troops to attack heroin labs, opium bazzars and convoys transporting the narcotic, said Preeta Bannerjee, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Opium production in Afghanistan rose 59 percent in 2006 to a record 165,000 hectares (408,000 acres) — representing 92 percent of the world's opium, according to U.N. figures.

"You can say that Afghanistan is pretty much out of control," Bannerjee said.

In contrast, opium poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia's 'Golden Triangle' — Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand — declined by 29 percent this year 24,160 hectares (59,700 acres) Bannerjee said. She credited combined efforts by U.N. organizations and aid agencies for helping farmers find alternative crops for reducing production levels by 85 percent since 1998.

"Afghanistan is practically ... supplying the world's opium," Bannerjee said. "There's also evidence that the country is increasingly hooked on its own opium."

The agency has said that about 2.9 million people were involved in growing opium, representing 12.6 percent of the Afghan population, and that revenue from this year's harvest was predicted to hit more than US$3 billion (euro2.4 billion).

Local farmers sell their crops to the Taliban, who resell them and use the revenues to fund themselves, Banerjee said. Since producers are subsistence farmers, it remains a question of giving the farmer a sustainable alternative, she said.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

APTV 10-17-06 1026EDT