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Record Afghan opium crop expected

August 28, 2007|From the Associated Press

kabul, afghanistan -- Afghan opium poppy cultivation exploded to a record high this year, with the multibillion-dollar trade fueled by Taliban militants and corrupt officials in President Hamid Karzai's government, a U.N. report said Monday.

Opium grows on 477,000 acres of land in Afghanistan, a 17% increase from last year's 408,000 acres, according to an annual survey by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

The country now accounts for 93% of the global production of opium, the raw material for heroin, and has doubled its output in two years, the report says.

"No other country in the world has ever had such a large amount of farmland used for illegal activity, besides China 100 years ago," Antonio Maria Costa, the U.N. drug office's executive director, said in Kabul.

Karzai last year rejected U.S. offers to spray this year's crop after Afghans said the herbicide could affect livestock, crops and water supplies.

The U.S. says those fears are unfounded.

Afghanistan is on track to produce 9,000 tons of opium this year, up 34% from 6,724 tons in 2006, Costa said.

The farm value of Afghanistan's annual crop is about $1 billion, the U.N. survey says. The street value of the heroin produced is many times higher.

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