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Last Updated: Monday, 29 August 2005, 15:10 GMT 16:10 UK
Afghan opium production 'drops'
An Afghan opium farmer in his field
In 2004, Afghanistan produced 90% of the world's opium
Afghanistan has registered a drop in the cultivation of opium for the first time since the fall of the Taleban, the United Nations says.

The area under cultivation for opium has dropped by 21%, says the head of the UN Office for Drugs and Crime.

But the actual output has not changed much and Afghanistan is still the largest producer of opium in the world, accounting for almost 90% of supplies.

The opium poppy is the raw material for producing the drug heroin.

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"Obviously we're very pleased, because it's the result of restraint by farmers - an active decision which is important," said Antonio Maria Costa, director for the UN Office for Drugs and Crime.

The governors should be punished, they aren't punished enough
Antonio Maria Costa
UN Drugs chief

He said there were several reasons for the decline, including government pressure and efforts to persuade farmers not to grow the crop.

But he also called on the government to remove governors in those provinces where opium cultivation has not come down.

"The governors should be punished, they aren't punished enough," the AFP news agency quotes Mr Costa as saying.

"They should be removed or jailed."

'Narco-state'

The UN has previously voiced fears that Afghanistan could turn into a "narco-state" if it failed to bring the drug trade under control.

On a visit to Washington earlier this year, President Karzai pledged to reduce opium farming by 30% during 2005.

The international community has spent millions of dollars on drug eradication programmes in Afghanistan since 2001, when the Taleban was ousted.

The BBC's Andrew North in Kabul says with little progress in tackling heroin processing operations and traffickers, the drugs trade still poses a major threat to Afghanistan's future.




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See the poppy fields where opium is cultivated




FROM OTHER NEWS SITES:
Press Trust of India Opium cultivation in Afghan declines by 21 per cent: UN - 14 hrs ago
Lebanon Daily Star Afghanistan cuts opium crop for first time since Taliban - 28 hrs ago
Arab News Opium Cultivation Drops Sharply in Afghanistan - 28 hrs ago
Washington PostOpium Yield Drops Only Slightly in Afghanistan - 29 hrs ago
New York Times Afghan Opium Down a Bit - 30 hrs ago
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