Afghanistan, the world's largest producer of opium, is hosting the conference which it hopes will reawaken donor nations to the drug issues confronting the war-ravaged nation, including increased opium production and the growing number of heroin addicts.

The executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, said before the meeting on Sunday that flourishing opium production was contributing to instability.

"The fight against terrorism will be more effective if drug trafficking is interrupted," he said, citing "mounting evidence of drug money being used to finance criminal activities, including terrorism.
 
"If we don't start translating counter-narcotics commitment into lower levels of production, we run the risk of (an) opium economy undermining all that has been achieved in creating a democratic new Afghanistan," Costa said in a statement.

The International Conference on Counter-Narcotics in Afghanistan will focus on three areas: law enforcement, alternative livelihoods for poppy farmers and demand reduction.

Sunday's opening sessions will be devoted to technical and planning meetings.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Britain's Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell and the director general of Afghanistan's Counter Narcotics Department, Mirwais Yasini, will address the conference on Monday.

Donor nations
 
Yasini has said Afghanistan will be looking for donor nations to contribute to its National Drug Control Strategy announced in May. Although no firm figure has been set, he said Afghanistan would be looking for something like $300 million to fund its strategy.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
is to address the conference

The five-year plan aims to reduce opium cultivation by at least 70% by 2008, crackdown on money laundering and boost regional and international cooperation on illicit drugs.

UK, the lead nation in anti-narcotics operations in Afghanistan, has already committed about ?70 million ($128 million) over three years to the anti-opium drive.

"This is not an issue one country can do on its own," Yasini said. "We would like the whole international community to help us."

International security

"The drugs trade in Afghanistan is threatening international security. It's threatening our interests and it's helping terrorism," he said, adding "there is interaction between Taliban, al-Qaida and drug trafficking."
 

"The drugs trade in Afghanistan is threatening international security. It's threatening our interests and it's helping terrorism ... there is interaction between Taliban, al-Qaida and drug trafficking"

Mirwais Yasini,
Director General, Afghanistan's Counter Narcotics Department

Afghanistan now produces more than two-thirds of the world's illicit opium supply and poppy cultivation is spreading to areas where it was never grown before, according to UNODC report released in October.

The estimated income of Afghan poppy farmers and opium traffickers is 2.3 billion dollars, much of which goes to provincial administrators and military commanders, its report said.

Three killed

Three people have been killed and six injured in factional fighting in northern Afghanistan, while elsewhere thousands of militiamen have begun to disarm.

The factional fighting was the
result of a drug dispute

Deputy Interior Minister General Hilal al-Din Hilal dismissed reports that as many as 20 had died in the violence. He said the conflict was the result of a drug dispute in the province.
 
"In the fighting in Badakhshan province three people have died and six have been injured," he told a news agency.

The fighting was between local commanders with decades-long grudges dating from the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which ended in 1989, but the latest clashes were sparked over feuds about "drugs-related deals", Hilal said.

"Drugs business has spread out in Badakhshan province lately."

The province, which borders China and Tajikistan, is a major cultivation area for opium poppies.

Fighting ceased

On Saturday, the state news agency Bakhtar reported at least 20 people had been killed and 40 injured in three days of fighting in the remote area.

The fighting began on Thursday in the Argo district of northern Badakhshan province, 350km north of Kabul, it said.

Hilal said that the government had sent a delegation, headed by General Muhammad Ayub, to the province to investigate and to "bring the culprits to justice".

"We have managed to stop the fighting for the moment but we will be investigating the cause of the fighting," he added.

Disarming private militias, along with cracking down on the illicit opium trade, is one of the priorities for President Karzai as he attempts to extend the authority of his government to the provinces which have been troubled by factional fighting and rights abuses by commanders.