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Afghan Opium Production Sets Record Highs, Says UN Report

The United Nations says Afghanistan's illegal opium production has reached record highs this year, despite a massive anti-narcotics campaign in the war-torn country. A new U.N survey reveals that Afghanistan now produces 93 percent of the world's opium. VOA Correspondent Benjamin Sand reports from Islamabad.

According to the report production rose 34 percent this year.

U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime Director Antonio Maria Costa says the war-torn country now accounts for 93 percent of the world's opium supply, the raw ingredient in heroin.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul, he said the greatest increase has been in southern Afghanistan, where the Taleban insurgency is strongest.

"The intensive cultivation and production in the south is clearly linked to the insurgency and to the fact that the government has lost control of that part of the country."

The report says progress has been made outside the Taleban's sphere of influence. In the relatively stable north, the United Nations says 13 provinces have been declared drug-free, up from six a year before.

But overall, the report is pessimistic.

The report says Taleban insurgents are now playing an increasingly important role in the region's drug trade. Militants reportedly protect local drug cartels in exchange for millions of dollars a year.

Costa says drug money is now considered the insurgency's leading source of revenue. "Now we see ample evidence of the Taleban in the opium economy in the south to fund their insurgency," he said.

The U.N. report underscores the lack of overall progress in the war on drugs in Afghanistan.

The United States and Britain have committed more than a $500 million to combat drug production and promote alternative crops.

But eradication efforts and development programs have faltered, especially in areas deemed too insecure for direct intervention. Costa says much of the money already allocated has not been spent because of bureaucratic mismanagement.

He urged the U.S.-backed government to actively seek out and destroy more opium fields to dissuade farmers from investing in the drug trade.

Afghan officials strongly oppose efforts to spray crops, saying it would fuel greater support for the Taleban.

Costa also called for international forces to step up direct attacks on the illegal drug trade. "I am asking NATO and the international forces here to take on the labs , the traffickers, the convoys and all of what supports the opium economy," he said.

The United Nations estimates 3.3 million of Afghanistan 25 million people are involved in the drug trade, which represents about one-third of the country's total gross domestic product.