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US Concerned Afghanistan will Remain Source of Opium Poppies - 2002-04-02

The top U.S. drug enforcement official says he is concerned that Afghanistan will continue to be a leading source of opium poppies despite last year's collapse of the ruling Taleban.

Asa Hutchinson, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration told the Heritage Foundation here in Washington that he is encouraged that the interim government in Afghanistan has banned the cultivation of opium poppies, which is converted into heroin.

But he says a recent survey by the United Nations indicates that, at least in the short term, Afghanistan will remain a leading source of the world's heroin. "But the United Nations, despite this ban that is currently in place, estimates that the area that is currently under cultivation could potentially produce up to 2,700 metric tons of opium in Afghanistan this coming year, he said. "This is of extraordinary concern to the DEA and the international community."

DEA Administrator Hutchinson says the United States will focus in the short term on building up Afghanistan's national police force and what he called its "criminal justice infrastructure."

He says the United States plans to intensify its efforts to stop poppy cultivation next year. "And we need to have some alternative crop development programs, we need to have some economic development programs to help those farmers," he said. "The difficulty is getting it all in place, via the State Department, prior to those crops coming up this year. There is a very limited amount of time to work with. Because of the difficulty in carrying out those programs, getting them started, I believe that we are not going to be able to reduce significantly, as much as I would like, the cultivation this year."

In 2000 under the ruling Taleban, Afghanistan supplied 70 percent of the world's opium.

Mr. Hutchinson says the Drug Enforcement Administration is awaiting congressional approval to open up offices in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan as part of an effort to expand international cooperation in the fight against illegal drugs.

He also says the recent seizure of seven tons of morphine base in Turkey, which was to be converted into heroin, is the latest example of how shared intelligence resources can make a difference in stemming the drug flow.