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Afghan Rebels Dominate Opium Growing

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Afghan Rebels Dominate Opium Growing

By Associated Press

October 5, 2001, 11:01 AM EDT

VIENNA, Austria -- Most opium produced in Afghanistan is now in areas controlled by the northern alliance, the rebel group whose battle against the ruling Taliban is encouraged by the United States and its Western allies, U.N. officials said Friday.

The rebels, who control a tiny sliver of northern Afghanistan, dominate opium harvests this year because the Taliban appear to be enforcing their ban on growing the poppy. Opium is the raw material in heroin and other drugs.

Growers in northern alliance areas harvested about 150 tons of the opium poppy this year, said Mohammad Amirkhizi, senior policy adviser at the U.N. Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention, based in Vienna.

That's about the same as northern alliance harvests in the past few years, and pales compared to the 3,300 tons harvested last year, before the Taliban banned production in the 90 percent of Afghanistan they controlled.

Only about 50 tons were harvested this year in regions controlled by the Taliban, said Amirkhizi, basing his figures on ground surveys conducted by U.N. workers.

However, officials believe that drug trading continues in Taliban-controlled areas from a stockpile estimated at 2,900 tons. The trading is flooding the world market and driving down opium prices.

Production of opium has been an important source of revenue for the Taliban, which has earned tens of millions of dollars by taxing poppy farmers and traffickers.

The Taliban have refused U.S. demands to surrender Osama bin Laden, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

Copyright 2001, The Associated Press

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