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Homeland Security

PRESS CONFERENCE BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF OFFICE ON DRUGS AND CRIME

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

21 March 2007

The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, painted a mixed picture of international efforts against opium cultivation in Afghanistan and discussed initiatives launched to combat illicit drug production at a Headquarters press conference today.

Yesterday, Mr. Costa updated the Security Council on the latest Afghanistan survey, and made recommendations to improve border management, bring major drug traffickers to justice and stamp out corruption. Today, he pointed to a “new and potentially promising” divergent trend between the central northern and the southern parts of Afghanistan. In the central northern part, where cultivation was in decline, six provinces had been declared opium-free in 2006. Further, due to a combination of eradication measures and financial assistance provided to farmers, the number of opium-free provinces could markedly increase by June, possibly making that number 8, 10, or even 12.

Inversely, however, there was a significant increase in poppy cultivation in the southern part of Afghanistan. That part, covering five provinces, was approximately 100,000 hectares and currently the largest area for such cultivation in the world. “A further increase in these high-cultivation provinces will probably offset the decrease in the north,” he remarked.

On what could be done, Mr. Costa said eradication was already taking place in a number of provinces, with over 800,000 hectares already having been eradicated. Also important was strengthening relations with neighbouring countries, as most of the Afghan opium was being exported to Pakistan or Iran, and 20 per cent of it was going to the Central Asian States to the north. There had been a major initiative launched to strengthen border controls between Afghanistan and Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and between Pakistan and Iran. All three countries already supported the initiative, and Mr. Costa expected that support from other stakeholders in the region would follow.

Mr. Costa stressed the importance of the Security Council’s decision to add major traffickers to the “Al-Qaeda and Taliban lists” of persons to be arrested, or whose assets should be seized and confiscated. “We count on that as being a very important step forward, to nip in the bud, the emerging drug cartels,” he added.

Furthermore, corruption was a key player, or “major lubricant”, in facilitating both the cultivation and trafficking of opium. “There are too many people in the Governments, in the Parliaments, in regional administrations, which benefit from it,” he said. “I believe the Security Council recognizes the importance of going beyond, strictly speaking, counter-narcotics, to address issues which are facilitators of the drug economy.”

Responding to whether opium production was out-of-control in Afghanistan, Mr. Costa noted that the situation was indeed, “out-of-control” in the southern part of Afghanistan. However, he was unable to provide a quantitative estimate on cultivation this year -- or whether that number would be higher than last year’s. As for statistics, opium cultivation did total 166,000 hectares last year.

On the topic of Government and military control over cultivation, Mr. Costa said that the Government had lost control of the region and even the military forces -- the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) -– were unable to control all of them. As such, insurgency was actively promoting cultivation.

Replying to a question on limiting the movements of drug traffickers, Mr. Costa said he had asked the Security Council in December to apply the same rules of identification and control of movement that were applied to Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders, to major traffickers. That meant that, upon presentation of evidence by Member States, individuals or entities could be identified, their international movements stopped and their assets blocked. More generally, it meant that networks being established in one area could not expand to other parts of the world.

On the issue of combating corruption in the Government, Mr. Costa said that the Government of Afghanistan had ratified the United Nations Convention against Corruption. It was already agreed that his Office would help President Karzai’s Government establish what was required in that Convention. He could not promise, however, that his Office would get involved in prosecuting, arresting, or going after those corrupted persons. It was important to create a climate where the Afghans, themselves, could do that.

On giving farmers alternatives to opium cultivation, Mr. Costa remarked that illicit activities were, by definition, much more profitable than licit activities. “We need to bring development to countries,” he noted. “That is a fundamental dimension of our anti-narcotic policies in Afghanistan.”

To a question on the slow dispersal of funds, Mr. Costa replied that there were two funds established to deal with narcotics issues in Afghanistan. Those were the Counter Narcotics Trust Fund, with an endowment of $77 million, and the Good Performance Fund, with an endowment of $22 million. Of that, only $750,000 had been spent. That had much to do with bureaucratic delays, national and international, as well as competition among ministers and ministries. “I would agree with you that the problem is there and is a very serious one,” he added.

Regarding an Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) report confirming his Office’s difficult budget situation, he said it was important to understand that the budget was very well-funded. In fact, the budget had doubled in size from $80 million to $160 million and funds were growing at a rate of 20 to 30 per cent a year. “What we don’t have in adequate amounts is regular budget –- the funds which are allocated from New York, as part of the budget of the United Nations,” he said. “That is what needs to be beefed up.”

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For information media • not an official record



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