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Page last updated at 17:38 GMT, Saturday, 27 June 2009 18:38 UK

US changes tack on Afghan poppies

By Duncan Kennedy
BBC News, Trieste

Richard Holbrooke: Opium strategy "a failure"

The United States is to change the way it deals with the massive poppy growing industry in Afghanistan.

Instead of destroying the crops it will spend money encouraging Afghan farmers to grow different ones.

US special envoy to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, at a G8 meeting in Italy, said current measures against poppy growers had been "a failure".

The conference of foreign ministers in Trieste also called for credible elections in Afghanistan in August.

Mr Holbrooke said that existing programmes of eradication had not reduced by one dollar the amount of money the Taliban earned from production.

"Spraying the crops just penalises the farmer and they grow crops somewhere else. The hundreds of millions of dollars we spend on crop eradication has not had any damage on the Taliban."

"On the contrary, it has helped them recruit. This is the least effective programme ever," Mr Holbrooke added.

'Sad joke'

Mr Holbrooke said in future destruction of poppy fields would be phased out and the money instead redirected to farmers to grow different crops.

The move was welcomed by delegates at the G8 conference.

One said the policy of eradication had been a "sad joke".

The Italian Foreign Minister, Franco Frattini, said the G8 backed President Hamid Karzai's appeal to the Taliban to take part in the Afghanistan elections in August.

Richard Holbrooke said the fairness of the elections would determine the legitimacy of the government.

"We have just seen a spectacularly bad example just next door in Iran", he said.



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