KABUL – Afghanistan, source of 90 percent of the world's heroin, Wednesday announced plans to wipe out opium poppies across most of the country, starting in the south where the Taliban have long held sway.
But areas where military operations are underway -- such as Marjah in Helmand province -- would not be targeted until the rebels had been pushed out and development programmes launched, said deputy interior minister Mohammad Daud Daud.
Eradication had begun in other parts of Helmand, scene of a major assault against militants who for years controlled Marjah along with drug traffickers, Daud told reporters.
Programmes had also begun in Nangarhar and Farah provinces, and would soon be launched in Kandahar, another militant hotspot and centre of poppy production, he said.
Daud said 25 of Afghanistan's 34 provinces were free of poppy cultivation by last year.
But he said the eradication programme would take place in 18 provinces as "minor planting" had been reported in some.
Afghanistan's illicit drugs industry is worth up to three billion dollars a year, controlled by militants and gangs who use cross-border routes to smuggle drugs to Pakistan and Iran, and bring arms and fighters back in.
The UN office on drugs and crime said last month that opium production in Afghanistan was likely to fall this year, due to bad weather.
Afghan opium production had already fallen from 8,200 tonnes in 2007 to 6,900 tonnes in 2009, the UNODC said in a report.
The area dedicated to opium cultivation, however, was expected to remain stable after decreasing by 36 percent, from a record 193,000 hectares (480,000 acres) in 2007 to 123,000 last year.
Daud said the campaign was in three stages -- public awareness, prevention of cultivation and, finally, eradication, with farmers offered help in planting alternative crops, including cereals.
The announcement comes after the United States said it was shifting its anti-opium strategy in Afghanistan from eradication of crops to a broader focus involving interdiction and alternative agriculture.
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