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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 May, 2004, 18:16 GMT 19:16 UK
UN battles Kyrgyz drugs smuggling
By Ian MacWilliam
BBC correspondent in Kazakhstan

The UN has opened a new drug-control agency in Kyrgyzstan to fight the flood of illegal narcotics being smuggled through the region from Afghanistan.

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, opened the agency's headquarters in the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.

About a quarter of the Afghan heroin and opium smuggled to Europe now goes through Central Asia.

Opening the new offices, Mr Costa said the agency's creation was an important step in the battle against the growing narcotics trade in Central Asia.

One of the main smuggling routes for Afghan heroin and opium runs through Kyrgyzstan, but only small quantities of the drugs are being confiscated there at the moment.

Mr Costa said that when a similar UN-backed agency was established in the neighbouring republic of Tajikistan, the amount of confiscated drugs jumped from a few dozen kilos a year to a few tonnes.

Arrest powers

Last year, more than five tonnes of heroin were confiscated in Tajikistan alone.

The UN drugs chief said such impressive results were a model for the region.

The new Kyrgyz agency will co-ordinate the activities of several authorities currently involved in counter-narcotics work and will have the power to arrest suspects if necessary.

Mr Costa stressed that measures to counter corruption were also an important part of the battle against the illegal narcotics in Central Asia.

Later this week, he will travel to Afghanistan, the source of three-quarters of the heroin sold in Europe.

Opium and heroin production has been steadily rising there because of the Kabul government's weak control over the rural areas.

Country profile: Kyrgyzstan
12 May 04  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Kyrgyzstan
16 May 04  |  Country profiles


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