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    AFGHANISTAN TO STEP UP OPIUM OUTPUT, WARNS UNITED NATIONS

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    MOSCOW, February 25, 2004. (RIA Novosti correspondent Dmitri Panovkin) - Afghanistan manufactured 3,600 tons of opium last year-its largest amount since 1999, and more than 75 percent of the world's entire illegally produced opium, say studies by the UN department for narcotics and crime.

    As follows from the research, Afghan opium poppy yields will further increase this year, the UN Moscow office for humanitarian issue coordination said to Novosti.

    A greater part of Afghan arable land is peasant property, and it is up to farmers alone to choose what they will sow, points out the department. 25 percent of Afghan farmers specialized in opium poppy last year. Poppy plantations accounted for 27 percent of the entire sown area to lend more than 60 percent of the year's agricultural revenues.

    Poppy planters shrugged off attempts to put an end to opium poppy growing and make up for it with aid to farmers. Illegal opium production will certainly thrive on unless drastic moves come against it- the scope, amount and methods of economic aid must be thoroughly reconsidered, poppy plantations destroyed, and opium trade banned, insist UN experts.

    Meanwhile, Russia is calling to surround Afghanistan with a safety belt to rule out drug smuggling out of the country and so make poppy plantations unprofitable, Alexander Fedorov, State Drug Inspection spokesman, said early this month. As he pointed out, Russian law enforcement agencies are helping their Afghan analogues to fight the drug danger, and firmly intend to step up such assistance. A great part of Afghan-made drugs reach Europe via Russia, so Moscow is vitally interested in fighting drug traffic.

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