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Saturday, May 15, 1999 Published at 21:24 GMT 22:24 UK

World: South Asia

Taleban destroy poppy crop

Afghanistan says the destruction is a signal of intent

The Taleban authorities in Afghanistan have been destroying opium poppy fields, as part of a crop conversion deal with the United Nations Drugs Control Programme.

It is the first time a poppy eradication programme has been implemented in southern Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is one of the world's biggest producers of opium and heroin, which are derived from the poppies.

And the southern provinces produce more than 60% of the country's total opium output.

The Taleban have committed itself initially to destroying 20% of the southern poppy fields, in return for help in converting them to other crops.

Small start

Taleban officials, including the governor of Kandahar province, watched the start of the poppy destruction programme.

Tractors dug up 200 hectares of the current crop in the Khakrez region of Kandahar. Last year more than 500 hectares in the Khakrez area were growing poppies.

The UN drugs agency admits this is only a fraction of the estimated 60,000 hectares that are used to produce about 3,000 tonnes of drugs annually.

But Kandahar's Governor Moulvi Mohammad Hassan Rehmani told the BBC that the move was a signal to the world, showing that Taleban was serious in its intentions to rid Afghanistan of the crop.

Mr Rehmani added that the UNDCP must now keep to its side of the bargain and extend facilities to help farmers convert to other crops.

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