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The BBC's Jim Muir in Teheran:
"This is Iran's Wild East"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
Iran seals border in drugs war

Iran is used as the route from the fields to the users
Iran is planning to seal off its border with Afghanistan in a new move to combat drug smuggling.

Walls and fences equipped with high-tech electronic security are to be built along the 600-mile border to try to stem the flow of heroin.

Drug traffickers use Iran as their main corridor for bringing heroin out Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is then smuggled onwards, for sale on world markets.

Dozens of Iranian police officers and soldiers are killed each year in gun battles with the traffickers.

The drugs end up on European markets
The move to protect the border was voted through by the Iranian Parliament after an impassioned plea by a border representative, Ebrahimbay Salami.

"Every day our children, our women and our men are shot dead, taken hostage or raped by Afghan bandits and drug traffickers," said Mr Salami.

He spoke of a "reign of terror" instigated by hundreds of armed smugglers and bandits in the area.

The Iranian Interior Minister, Abdolvaheh Mussavi-Lari, told MPs there were security problems in the "high risk" areas, but assured MPs that the government and police were "determined" to fight the drug smugglers.

Poppy farmers

"Last year we arrested 9,177 people in these areas," he said, but did not elaborate on the charges against them or give their nationalities.

Tehran has previously accused the Taleban authorities in Afghanistan of encouraging the trade.

But officials in the Afghan capital, Kabul, say the Iranians have agreed to help fund alternative crop schemes for poppy farmers in the province of Helmand. The region is directly on the Iranian border and is the biggest heroin producing area in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is the world's largest heroin producer
Mir Najibullah Shams, secretary general of the Taleban's anti-drug commission, said the government would step up its anti-drug campaign if other countries helped modernise border control facilities.

Heroin traffickers use Iran as their corridor into the Gulf, Europe and Central Asia.

The authorities in Iran seize more than 200 tonnes of opium and its derivatives every year.

But the cost is high. Officials say 185 policemen and soldiers were killed in the year to March.

More than 900 traffickers were killed and 262 tonnes of drugs seized by security forces during the same period.

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See also:

10 Sep 99 | South Asia
Afghan opium crop 'largest recorded'
24 Jun 99 | Middle East
Drugs haul from Iranian camel caravan
26 Jun 99 | South Asia
Taleban wages anti-drugs war from air
15 May 99 | South Asia
Taleban destroy poppy crop
09 May 98 | From Our Own Correspondent
Afghanistan's opium harvest
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