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UN Reports Afghan Opium Crop Drops but Remaining Plants Have Higher Yield

United Nations officials say they are "quite confident" their estimates are correct, showing a 20 percent drop in Afghanistan's opium crop for the year, but only a six percent drop in production, because of higher yields. The figures show significantly higher yield than just-released American government data predicting a 31 percent plunge for the production of the heroin precursor. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Kabul has details.

U.N. officials in the Afghan capital are defending their latest projections on the reduction of the country's opium poppy crop. U.S. government statistics claim a five times greater reduction in production.

The head of the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime in Afghanistan, Christina Oguz, tells reporters she has high confidence in the U.N. estimates because they are based on ground inspections, analysis of the actual opium yield of the latest crop and satellite imagery.

"Whichever figure it would turn out to be right would be a tragedy because it's still far too much produced, in any case," she said.

The U.S. government data says yields are falling, not rising.

Both the United States and the United Nationd agree that 18 provinces are now poppy-free, up from 13 last year.

The United Nations says 90 percent of the farmers have responded to U.N. and Afghan government pleas not to grow poppies, persuaded that cultivating the crop is un-Islamic or responding in expectation of alternative aid.

At a Kabul news conference, Oguz warned that, at this time of the year, many of these same farmers are deciding whether to prepare their land to grow the illicit crop for the next season.

"Both the government and the international community are playing with fire if they don't honor the promises to the farmers who have stopped cultivating opium," added Oguz.

The U.N. official says there is mounting anger among farmers and their families, especially in the northeast part of the country, which has become less stable than before. Oguz calls the trend "very dangerous."

The United Nations, in its latest report on Afghanistan's illicit opium industry, says public education campaigns and alternative support for farmers has become more effective than eradication of fields.

Despite the efforts, Afghanistan remains the world's top producer of opium poppies, an illegal industry sustained by what the United Nations calls an alliance of big landowners, drug traders, corrupt officials and insurgents.

The opium industry is a significant source of income for the fundamentalist Taliban rebels, battling Afghanistan's government and the 70,000 foreign troops in the country.

Meanwhile, the Taliban are claiming responsibility for a suicide attack Monday in Baghlan Province. Officials in the provincial capital, Pul-e-Khumri say a man wearing a police uniform blew himself up in a police station there, killing and wounding American soldiers and Afghan security officers.