Source AP ©

Afghan borders turning trade centers for heroin

Afghanistan’s blooming heroin production led to appearance of two new "Golden Triangles" of lawlessness on the country's borders with Pakistan, Iran and Turkmenistan , the U.S. anti-narcotics chief said on Friday.

"Illegality is very pervasive and trafficking (is) going on," said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N.'s Office on Drugs and Crime.

He said the region where the Iranian, Afghan and Pakistani borders meet near the Iranian city of Zahedan, and the area where the frontiers of Iran, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan converge had replaced old Golden Triangle on the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand as centers of the world trade in opium and heroin.

Costa praised Iranian efforts to tackle cross-border smuggling. He said Western nations at loggerheads with Iran over other issues were cooperating in its fight against illegal narcotics, but said Iran needs more international support.

"In my area, counter narcotics, I have seen a great amount of collaboration," he told a news conference. "The country is under attack, it is our responsibility to assist Iran, which is doing its best."

Costa said he had seen Iranian intelligence reports showing armed convoys of more than 60 vehicles driving into Iran from Afghanistan and said Iranian authorities reported 3,400 members of its security forces have been killed fighting the drug trade over the past five years.

At a conference on Afghanistan, Costa presented the U.N.'s final 2007 report on opium production in the country, the origin of 93 percent of the world's heroin. The report's provisional findings were released by the U.N. office in August.

It shows that Afghanistan saw a record harvest of 8,200 metric tons (9,000 short tons) of opium in 2007, a 34-percent increase over 2006. The export value of the country's opium is estimated at US$4 billion (EUR2.73 billion), up 29 percent on last year and equal to more than half of Afghanistan's legal gross domestic product.

Costa welcomed signs that NATO is preparing to take a more active role in the fight against opium production in Afghanistan, which he said was the main source of funding for the Taliban. He called on NATO's 41,000 troops to destroy heroin labs, close opium markets, seize drug convoys and help bring traffickers to justice.

He showed a map produced by the U.N. and Afghan governments indicating the location of opium markets and labs for processing opium into heroin. "If we have this information, certainly military forces have similar information. My plea is for these labs to be destroyed and these open markets for opium and heroin to be closed down," he said.

Despite the big increase in production this year, Costa said there was some good news. Following campaigns led by Afghan authorities, he said the number of provinces where there was no opium production rose from six to 13. He said that number could be increased to 18 next year - over half Afghanistan's provinces.

Poppy cultivation is now mostly concentrated in the southwest. The southern province of Helmand - a Taliban stronghold - produces about half the national total.

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