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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 06:16 GMT 07:16 UK
Afghan poppy destruction begins
Children in poppy field
Afghanistan used to supply 90% of the world's heroin
Afghanistan's interim administration has begun destroying poppy fields despite protests from farmers.

Poppy cultivators in Afghanistan have defied the Thursday deadline to give up cultivating poppies, the flower used for making opium and heroin.

The Afghan Government has been given $21m by the European Union to help eradicate this year's poppy crop.

But angry farmers say the compensation they have been offered to destroy their harvests is insufficient.

Armed with assault rifles, security forces have begun destroying the fields in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province.

Poppy farmer
Farmer Mohammad Agha inspects his crop
Tractors were used to chew up the fields, officials said.

"Our work is going on and we will keep destroying poppy crops until they are completely finished," a spokesman for the Helmand governor told the Afghan Islamic Press.

On Tuesday protesting farmers blocked a key road from Pakistan, preventing thousands of Afghan refugees from returning home.

Profitable crop

Government officials sent to the main poppy growing areas of eastern and southern Afghanistan have come under attack.

They have been offering the farmers about $250 per acre to destroy their poppy crops.

The government has now raised the offer to $350.

After the fall of the Taleban, many farmers borrowed money to plant poppies - one of the few profitable crops in the region.

Refugee family crosses the Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan
Some refugees are more enthusiastic than others
The farmers still have to pay back the cash. They say the compensation being offered by the government is derisory.

Some have shot at government officials and burned their cars.

Before the Taleban banned poppy growing, Afghanistan supplied 90% of the world's heroin.

A BBC correspondent in Afghanistan says that if the Afghan Government cannot fulfil its promise to eradicate the poppy, it risks losing some of the goodwill of the West, which is helping pay to have the crop destroyed.

The Afghan authorities have now asked for more international help in targeting the poppy crops.

See also:

09 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghanistan's opium industry
10 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan refugees eager to go home
02 Apr 02 | South Asia
Afghan refugees rush home
10 Mar 02 | South Asia
New UN scheme for Afghan refugees
02 Nov 01 | Middle East
Iran refugee camps 'getting worse'
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