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Monday, 22 July, 2002, 17:55 GMT 18:55 UK
Opium fire signals Afghan purge
Taj Mohammed Wardak lights the fire
Afghanistan has pledged to fight the drugs trade
A bonfire topped with bags of opium has been burned in the Afghan capital, Kabul, as part of a purge on drugs.

About 200 people watched as soldiers set light to the pyre, the first public display in Kabul of the government's anti-drugs commitment.


The government is determined to stop the trade of narcotics

Taj Mohammed Wardak
"The government of Afghanistan will not allow the growing of poppies, nor the manufacturing or smuggling of drugs," said Interior Minister Taj Mohammed Wardak, who lit the fire.

He organised two drug burnings when he was governor of Paktia province.

Mr Wardak said other fires would be held as more opium - the raw material for heroin - was seized.

The Kabul bonfire contained about 20 bags of opium which were seized at a market in eastern Nangarhar province.

Mr Wardak said the farmers who had grown the opium poppies had been compensated because they had planted their crop before the January decree that made growing the plant illegal.

He said there would be no compensation in the future.

"The government is determined to stop the trade of narcotics," he said.

UN praise

Antonio Costa, executive director of the UN office for drug control and crime prevention, welcomed the drug seizure calling it "an Afghan government success".

"The government is committed to eradication, prevention and law enforcement, and we are here to help them," he said.

President Hamid Karzai will open a conference on Tuesday aimed at co-ordinating anti-drugs operations in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan was once the source of 70% of the heroin found in Western Europe.

A Taleban soldiers guards poppy field
Drug production fell under Taleban rule
The Taleban regime - which branded drugs un-Islamic - was credited by the United Nations with virtually eradicating opium production towards the end of its rule.

But since the Taleban's fall, farmers have returned to poppy production.

Mr Wardak said authorities were ordering opium fields to be razed whenever they were found, although one UN official said this was a difficult task.

"In the rural areas, many people are still answerable to the local warlords or elders rather than the central government," the official told the news agency AFP.

"If Kabul sends someone to burn down their crop, there is likely to be trouble.

"It is much better to have an educated approach that will trickle down to the farmers. They need incentives to grow other crops."

The drugs trade

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