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AFGHANISTAN is on the brink of becoming a "narcotic state" after producing its largest annual opium crop since the end of Taleban rule, according to a United Nations watchdog report published today.
The report coincides with government figures showing a record number of heroin and cocaine offences in England and Wales in 2003. Ninety per cent of heroin in Britain comes from Afghanistan.
Afghanistan grew an estimated 4,200 tons of opium, the raw material for heroin, in 2004, up 17 per cent on 2003. The record amount grown was 4,600 tons in 1999 before the Taleban regime imposed a total ban in 2001.
Professor Hamid Ghodse, president of the UN International Narcotics Control Board, said: "Afghanistan has been deteriorating, with a 17 per cent increase to 4,200 tonnes of heroin. This is a major concern of the board. It is almost a narcotic state."
The total area under production has risen from 80,000 to 130,000 hectares since 2003 and cultivation extends to every district in the country.
Professor Ghodse urged the Government in Afghanistan to take action to eradicate the drug.
He said: "If it is not going to be a narcotic state, which is a risk, then Afghanistan needs to do very urgent action in eradication and alternative development."
The Taleban imposed a zero tolerance approach to drug crops, which led to dramatic falls in Afghanistan's heroin exports. Professor Ghodse said: The board is asking the international community to help Afghanistan in this. It can't happen in isolation.
"The Afghanistan Government needs to do something very serious, very quickly." The board's annual report said that Britain had the largest heroin seizure rate in Europe and the third-highest number of heroin addicts.
Britain also had the highest level of amphetamine use in Europe and the third-highest level of Ecstasy use after Ireland and the Czech Republic.
Cocaine use was increasing but had stabilised generally in Europe since 1998, it said. The report also said that last year's expansion of the European Union from 15 to 25 states may make life easier for drug traffickers by weakening border controls.
"The board is concerned that the enlargement of EU membership may lead to a weakening of existing import or export controls throughout Europe," the report said. "Several member states in the EU are reorganising their Customs services and are significantly reducing their staff."
"The board emphasises that such adjustments should not have any adverse impact on the control of illicit drugs . . . and the capacity to act against drug trafficking."
Figures published by the Home Office yesterday show a 5 per cent overall increase in drug offences in England and Wales in 2003.
The number of drug offences in England and Wales rose to 133,970, the most since 1999.
Class A drug offences (related to heroin, cocaine, crack, LSD and Ecstasy-type drugs) rose by 6 per cent to 35,610. Class B offences (related to cannabis, which has since reclassified as Class C, and amphetamines) rose by 5 per cent to 94,520. Class C offences (anabolic steroids and benzodiazepines) fell by 2 per cent to 1,660.
The number of drug offenders in 2003 rose by 4,000 to 110,400, the most since 1999.
-------------------- There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes, Jesus Christ died for nothin' I suppose. Little pitchers have big ears, Don't stop to count the years, Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios. - John Prine