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Paris Meeting Closes with Vow to Stem Afghan Drug Trade - 2003-05-22


Foreign ministers and drug experts from Europe and Central Asia closed a two-day meeting in Paris vowing to strengthen cooperation in stanching the production and trade of heroine and opium from Afghanistan.

Nobody at the Paris conference suggested ending poppy production in Afghanistan - or the deadly trade in heroine and opium in Europe - will be an easy task.

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah said the government's fledgling eradication efforts had suffered setbacks. In some parts of Afghanistan, he said, farmers have yet to find a lucrative alternative. There was also not enough international assistance, he said, to combat the problem.

Experts said drug traffickers quickly adapt to government efforts to crack down on the drug trade, and had developed new trading routes. And the United Nations' top AIDS official said that shooting up drugs like heroine was among the key reasons for the rapid expansion of the AIDS virus.

Nonetheless, some 60 participating countries and international organizations vowed to step up their national capacities, and to work together in cutting off the flow of heroine and opium from Afghanistan, through Central Asia and to their main clients - addicts in Western Europe.

Speaking to reporters late Thursday, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin said the stakes were immense.

Mr. de Villepin said the participants had established a blueprint for action, from mapping out drug routes used by trafficker, to establishing new measures to fight against narcotics trafficking and production.

The United Nations estimates opium production in Afghanistan at 3,400 tons during 2002 and 2003 - a stunning rise from 2001. Afghanistan's dirt-poor farmers are the world's top producers of opium, but the drug primarily enriches traders and sellers, who operate along Central Asia's old silk trading routes.

Poppy production accounts for 20 percent of Afghanistan's total income.

Earlier in the day, French President Jacques Chirac called for international solidarity - not only in helping Afghanistan fight its poppy battle, but also in helping fight domestic consumption of illegal drugs and the resulting spread of AIDS among Western European addicts.

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