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. NATO chief says Afghanistan in danger of becoming "narco-state"
SYDNEY (AFP) Apr 01, 2005
International action is needed to prevent Afghanistan becoming a "narco-state" with an economy dominated by opium poppies, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Friday.

De Hoop Scheffer said the United Nations and the government of Afghani leader Hamid Karzai needed to confront the problem, suggesting an international conference should be held to discuss the issue.

"It is one of the major problems facing the Karzai government," Scheffer told reporters in Australia.

"We need to find a solution for this problem, because we cannot afford to send NATO forces into Afghanistan to provide security and stability and at the same time have Afghanistan develop into a narco-state.

"I think after the parliamentary elections in September, on the 18th, we need a new international conference.

"We might see the conference at the end of this year in Kabul or anywhere else, but counter narcotics will play a prominent part on the agenda."

Scheffer said NATO, which has a peacekeeping role in Afghanistan, was not responsible for monitoring the poppy crop, which yields almost 90 percent of the world's opium.

"That's (a matter for) President Karzai in the first place and the British leadership," he said

Scheffer said alternative crops had to be found for Afghani farmers.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer acknowledged poppy cultivation was a major problem in Afghanistan but said it was difficult to eradicate.

"For all the good things that have happened in Afghan since the overthrow of the Taliban ... there has, on the negative side, been substantial increases in the poppy production," he told reporters.

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