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Afghanistan decides not to spray poppies

Afghanistan decides not to spray poppies

Afghanistan's heroin-producing poppies will not be sprayed with herbicide this year despite a record crop in 2006 and U.S. pressure for Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to allow the drug-fighting tactic, a spokesman said yesterday.
Karzai's Cabinet decided on Sunday to hold off on using chemicals - at least for now, according to Said Mohammad Azam, spokesman for Afghanistan's Ministry of Counter Narcotics.
"There will be no ground spraying this year," Azam told The Associated Press.
He said there would be more pressure to destroy poppy crops with "traditional" techniques - typically sending teams of laborers into fields to batter down or plow in the plants before they can be harvested.
"If it works, that is fine," Azam said. "If it does not, next year ground spraying will be in the list of options."
Fueled by the Taliban, a powerful drug mafia and the need for a profitable crop that can overcome drought, opium production from poppies in Afghanistan last year rose 49 percent to 6,700 tons - enough to make about 670 tons of heroin. That's more than 90 percent of the world's supply and more than the world's addicts consume in a year.
However, Afghans are deeply opposed to aerial spraying, and Karzai has said herbicides pose too big a risk of contaminating water, killing legal crops and harming local residents. Any chemicals would have been spread at ground level, not by planes.
The decision caps months of behind-the-scenes pressure from the U.S. for Karzai to allow a technique already used in countries such as Colombia. Afghan officials have deployed similar arguments in previous years to reject spraying.
"We always said that the ground based spraying is a decision for the Afghans to make," said Joe Mellot, the spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan. "So we understand they are going to focus on a robust manual and mechanical program to eradicate poppies this year," he said.
The U.S. will provide assistance in that, Mellot said, and also "if they want to use herbicide."