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Report: Afghan officials aid drug traffickers

Corruption hurts fight against opium production

KABUL , Afghanistan -- Afghanistan's criminal underworld has compromised key government officials who protect drug traffickers, allowing a flourishing opium trade that will not be stamped out for a generation, a UN report released yesterday said.

The fight against opium production has so far achieved only limited success, mostly because of corruption, the joint report from the World Bank and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said.

The findings show a "probability of high-level [government] involvement" in drugs, said Doris Buddenberg, the UNODC's Afghanistan representative and co editor of the report.

The report in particular presented a strong indictment of the Interior Ministry, which runs the country's police, and said Afghanistan's criminal underworld could not operate without the support of the political "upperworld."

"The majority of police chiefs are involved," one senior police officer told the report's authors on condition of anonymity. "If you are not, you will be threatened to be killed and replaced."

Without naming officials, the report said it was possible that powerful interests in the Interior Ministry are appointing district police chiefs "to both protect and promote criminal interests."

The result is a "complex pyramid of protection and patronage, effectively providing state protection to criminal trafficking activities."

The spokesman for the counter-narcotics ministry said there is no evidence that high-ranking officials are involved in Afghanistan's drug trade.

"If there is evidence we welcome the evidence and the arrest will be on the spot," Zalmai Afzali said.

Poppy cultivation and the heroin it produces have become major problems in Afghanistan, providing funds for the Taliban insurgency that has caused the deaths of more than 3,700 people this year.

Opium production in Afghanistan rose 49 percent this year to 6,100 metric tons.

The harvest provided more than 90 percent of the world's opium supply and was worth more than $3.1 billion.

General Khodaidad, Afghanistan's deputy minister for counter-narcotics, told the Associated Press that next year's harvest will be as large as this year's in several key southern provinces where Taliban militants have a heavy presence. A US official has also told the AP he expects next year's yield to be about the same.

The 210-page report, "Afghanistan's Drug Industry," is the first comprehensive assessment of the country's drug production, from poppy-growing farmers to international drug traffickers.

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