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UN Urges NATO to Cut Narcotics Routes in Afghanistan - 2003-09-17

The head of the U.N. office on drugs and crime is urging NATO forces to cut drug trafficking routes in Afghanistan, in order to help President Hamid Karzai stabilize his country.

The head of the U.N.'s anti-drug office, Antonio Maria Costa, has just returned from a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels.

He told the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council there that opium cultivation in Afghanistan remains at roughly the same level as last year. The council includes NATO member states and partner countries from eastern and central Europe.

Earlier this month Mr. Costa visited President Karzai in Kabul, and said he was committed to fighting the opium economy. But Mr. Costa said the Afghan Transitional Authority needs greater international assistance to create a security belt around the country.

The U.N. anti-drug chief sees a greater role for NATO in disrupting trafficking routes and striking at illegal drug processing labs. Mr. Costa urges NATO and the generals in charge of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan to establish a presence, not only in Kabul but also other provincial capitals. He said this was important for several reasons.

"First, the trafficking of narcotics destabilizes the government and we're all committed to support the process of strengthening the democratic government of President Karzai, so to fight narcotics is to help Kabul and Karzai," said Mr. Costa. "But second, a good deal of the revenue raised through drugs goes to the coffers of the warlords and especially terrorists so it is important to buy time and slow down the income generated this way so as to hurt the terrorists too from the revenue side."

Mr. Costa says the opium economy generates billions of dollars each year, and a significant amount goes to followers of the Taleban and al-Qaida. Afghanistan produces about three-quarters of the world's supply of opium and it is the source of most of the opium consumed in Europe.