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UN Says Afghan Opium Production Down

The United Nations says Afghanistan has reduced its opium production and cultivation for the first time since 2001, mainly because of a major clampdown on poppy farmers across the country.

Opium production surged across Afghanistan after the fall of the Taleban in late 2001. There have been warnings that, if it is not contained, the country could be overwhelmed by the illegal drug trade, undermining reconstruction efforts.

But U.N. anti-drug chief Antonio Maria Costa says that opium cultivation in one of the world's largest producer countries has dropped by an estimated 21 percent. He was discussing preliminary findings of an annual U.N survey.

Mr. Costa, who is in Kabul, attributed the marked decrease in opium cultivation to the Afghan government's success at convincing farmers to refrain from poppy cultivation. He says a significant decline in market prices across the country also has discouraged opium cultivation this year.

However, the U.N anti-drug chief says the world body expects Afghanistan to do more. He called for the government to remove corrupt governors in provinces where cultivation levels have not decreased.

"The United Nations would like to invite the government to take very tough measures against those governors, or those officials, whether civilians, military police, who are involved in cultivation or refining or trafficking," said Mr. Costa. "We wish the government persevered in making its own legal instruments available to the international community, so that traffickers can be extradited."

Mr. Costa says the U.N survey found production of Afghan opium in 2005 stands at 4,100 tons, slightly less than the 4,200 tons in the previous year. He predicts that it may take up to 20 years to totally eradicate poppy production in Afghanistan.

Since the United States-led coalition force ousted the fundamentalist Taleban regime nearly four-years ago, the international community has pumped millions of dollars into anti-drug efforts in Afghanistan.