14 December 2004
Russian Federation Hosts 6th Regional Meeting to Address Afghan Heroin Trafficking
VIENNA, 14 December (UN Information Service) -- Drug control experts and policy makers from Russia, Central Asia, other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States and development organizations are meeting in Moscow from 14 to 15 December 2004 to discuss increased heroin trafficking across these regions from Afghanistan into Europe, and methods of intensifying cooperation to counter drug trafficking and related crimes. The regional meeting is being hosted by the Government of Russia, with support from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
According to the recently released UNODC Afghanistan Opium Survey 2004, opium production in Afghanistan in 2004 reached 4,200 metric tons compared to 3,600 metric tons in 2003. The area under opium cultivation increased by 64 per cent. In his presentation of the Survey findings to the Permanent Council of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa said: With 131,000 hectares dedicated to opium farming, Afghanistan has established a double record this year -- the highest drug cultivation in the countrys history, and the largest in the world.
Meeting participants also plan to address the illicit movement of precursor chemicals for heroin production from other countries into Afghanistan, as well as ways to ensure adequate protection of the Afghanistan -- Tajikistan border after the withdrawal of the Russian Federal Border Service and the assumption of border control responsibilities by the Tajik authorities. Also on the agenda are discussions regarding the creation of a Central Asian Regional Information and Coordination Centre (CARICC), which some participants view as an essential element of improved border control, targeted operations and regional enforcement collaboration.
The growing risks posed by Afghan heroin trafficking to neighbouring regions are serious: estimates suggest that about 30 per cent of all Afghan heroin is trafficked from that country across Central Asia. In Tajikistan alone, heroin seizures in 2003 were above 5.5 tons, and reports for the first 10 months of 2004 amounted to 4.4 tons. Increased trafficking and a greater availability of heroin translates into more drug abuse, the spread of HIV/AIDS and drug-related deaths. Studies indicate that Central Asia has seen one of the strongest increases in opiates abuse in recent years -- a 17-fold increase in the period from 1990 to 2002. About 60-80 per cent of HIV cases and other blood-borne infections in the region are associated with injecting drug use. Current estimates for 2001-2003 indicate that drug abusers represent almost 1 per cent of the total Central Asia population, as compared to 0.75 per cent of the European population; 0.41 per cent in Western Europe; and 0.32 per cent of the Asian population.
The December meeting is the 6th annual meeting after the signature of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on subregional drug control cooperation between the five Central Asian states and UNODC in May 1996. The Russian Federation and the Aga Khan Development Network signed the MoU in 1998. When Azerbaijan joined in 2001, the subregional cooperation framework expanded further. In addition to the progress review of drug enforcement and demand reduction areas to date, and new measures required by the MoU countries, this years annual review meeting will also consider ways to improve cooperation between MoU countries, Afghanistan, and other countries in the region facing mounting risks from the increase in heroin trafficking.
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