POLICE DESTROY POPPY FIELD
Noor Khan  /  AP
An Afghan police officer stands guard as another hacks away at opium poppy plants near Kandahar, Afghanistan, last week.
updated 4/25/2005 12:59:15 PM ET 2005-04-25T16:59:15

Afghan police and soldiers are pressing ahead with a plan to eradicate the world's largest opium crop, moving from field to field in southern Kandahar province with cutters and large sticks as angry farmers look on.

Similar operations are under way in other parts of the country, though it will be some time until officials get a clear sense of how much of this year's crop is destroyed.

President Hamid Karzai has called for a "holy war" on drugs after Afghanistan's share of the market for opium, the raw material for heroin, leapt to 87 percent last year, sparking warnings that it is fast turning into a narco-state.

The eradication campaign was suspended April 12, its first day, when police sent to destroy poppy fields in Kandahar opened fire on rock-throwing protesters. At least seven people were hurt, though officials denied reports of fatalities.

Last Wednesday, two farmers in western Afghanistan were shot dead by security forces during a protest against the operation.

General sent to Kandahar
Local and central government authorities have held meetings with tribal elders in an effort to restore calm and Karzai last week sent Gen. Mohammed Daoud, the deputy interior minister in charge of counter-narcotics, to Kandahar to oversee the operation.

Countries including the United States, Britain and France are training new police units to destroy poppy fields, smash drug labs and arrest smugglers while providing hundreds of millions of dollars to help farmers switch to legal crops.

But it is expected to take years to replace a crop that has powered Afghanistan's post-Taliban revival and provided a lifeline to war-impoverished rural communities.

Farmer pleads ignorance
"I had no idea whether growing this was legal or illegal," said one farmer, Mohammed Gull. "All I know is that I was about to harvest my field and now the government has destroyed everything. They have ruined me. I've lost everything."

Another farmer, Yar Mohammed, said the government has promised aid for the drought stricken region, but none had arrived.

"I have not seen it. The government should provide us with schools, roads and electricity and give us some other job we can do to make money if they don't want us to grow poppies," he said. "After this I will have no choice but to go begging for work in town to feed my family."

Much of the country's opium crop is expected to be harvested in coming weeks, meaning time is of the essence. But in Kandahar, the going has been extremely slow.

Sympathy and orders
Police have waited for days for the go-ahead from the governor to start eradication in other districts in the province.

Haji Mohammed, a district police official, expressed sympathy for the farmers but he said he would follow his orders.

"Certainly, the people in the area are very poor and need the help of the government and the international community," he said. "They should be given an alternative business or get help to improve their agriculture. But in accordance with our directives, we must destroy all their poppy fields.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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