Afghan opium trade to be domestic issue: US

Moscow, June 8 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Afghanistan, the world's No. 1 producer of opium, will have to decide on its own how to combat drug trafficking after the US military pulls out next year, a top US official has said.

"There are number of options on the table, but the decisions will be made by the Afghan people and the government of Afghanistan as to what the best approach is," Michele Leonhart, head of the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), said in Moscow.

Leonhart's Russian counterpart agreed but said further international involvement would also be needed.

Afghanistan is seeing a rise in opium plantation within its borders. According to estimates by the UN, there were about 154,000 hectares of land dedicated to opium cultivation in the country, up almost a fifth from the year before.

The Afghan drug trade was one of the central topics of the three-day 30th International Drug Enforcement Conference in Moscow, which ended Friday.

But public statements revealed little certainty about a plan, if any, for addressing production in Afghanistan after the withdrawal of US troops in 2014.

Viktor Ivanov, head of Russia's anti-drug service, agreed with his American counterpart that Afghanistan, as a "sovereign nation", would need to decide on its own plan of action to counter the drug trade.

But he emphasised that Russia had repeatedly called on the UN to deem Afghan drug-trafficking as an international threat that would justify foreign intervention in the future.

According to a report last year by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, almost a quarter of the heroin produced in Afghanistan - some 90 tonnes out of 380 - passed through Central Asia, 75 percent of which was destined for the Russian market.

Russian drug officials have estimated that their country consumes about 21 percent of the world's heroin.

In the past, Ivanov has blamed US policies in Afghanistan for exacerbating the problem.

On Friday, he criticised Russia's visa-free regime with many former Soviet republics in Central Asia for facilitating drug smuggling.

Tighter migration policies, including "the introduction of international passports,... would increase the effectiveness of fight against the contraband of drugs from Afghanistan by up to 30 times", Ivanov said, meaning that stamps in passports would help law enforcement to track traffickers.

--IANS/RIA Novosti

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