UN accuses Afghan rulers of peddling drugs to train terrorists

"Taliban stockpiling the drugs, halted production to keep opium and heroin prices from plummeting"

AP, May 26, 2001

UNITED NATIONS (AP) - A UN panel accused Afghanistan's Taliban rulers Friday of selling opium and heroin to finance its war against northern rebels and to train terrorists. It called for the United Nations to monitor the drug trade as part of an existing arms embargo.

In a report to the Security Council, the five-member panel questioned the sincerity of the Taliban's supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, when he banned the cultivation last July of poppies, the raw material used to make heroin and opium.

The report said the Taliban was stockpiling the drugs, suggesting it only halted production in order to keep opium and heroin prices from plummeting.

The UN Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention said Afghanistan's opium production was about 2,300 tonnes in 1998, 4,200 tonnes in 1999, and 2,800 tonnes in 2000.

"If Taliban officials were sincere in stopping the production of opium and heroin, then one would expect them to order the destruction of all stocks existing in areas under their control," the report said.

The panel, established to make recommendations on how best to monitor a UN arms embargo and the closure of terrorist training camps, said it is essential to look into the illicit drug trade because drug money is being used to buy weapons and "finance the training of terrorists and support the operations of extremists in neighbouring countries and beyond."

Laili Helms of New Jersey, an adviser to the Taliban in the United States, said most drugs go from the area controlled by the anti-Taliban opposition in the north to Tajikistan and Russia and most arms come in through the same route. There is no arms embargo on the opposition forces.

"I think their recommendations reflect the hypocrisy with which the United Nations has dealt with Afghanistan," she said.

The Security Council froze Taliban assets and imposed an international flight ban on Ariana airlines in November 1999 to pressure the hardline militia to turn over suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden is charged in the twin U.S. embassy bombings in Africa in August 1998. The council then imposed an arms embargo on the Taliban, which controls about 95 per cent of Afghanistan, in January.

The panel called for the establishment of international teams in countries neighbouring Afghanistan to beef up monitoring of the sanctions and a new UN office to oversee sanctions-enforcement, possibly headquartered in Vienna.

The report said fuel for aircraft and armoured vehicles should be included in the arms embargo.

In enforcing the arms embargo, the panel called for monitoring the movement of acetic anhydride, a key ingredient to turn opium into heroin.

The panel noted Afghanistan supplied as much as 79 per cent of the world's opium in 1999.

Between October 2000 and March 2001, the panel said about six tonnes of heroin were seized in Europe, the majority from Afghanistan. It said that indicates the Taliban still has large quantities of the drugs in stock.

The Security Council is expected to consider the report's recommendations in early June, UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said.

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