Russia says U.S. should eradicate Afghan opium

KABUL (Reuters) - Russia accused the United States on Sunday of conniving with Afghanistan’s drug producers by refusing to destroy opium crops, the second time in a week Moscow has taken a swipe at the West over drug policy.

Afghan farmers work on a poppy field in the Grishk district of Helmand province in this April 18, 2009 file photo. REUTERS/Abdul Qodus/Files

U.S. Marines have advanced into one of the main opium-growing regions of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province since February, but have told villagers there they will not destroy the opium crop that is blossoming this month.

“We believe such statements are contrary to the decisions taken on Afghan narco-problems within the U.N. and other international forums,” said a statement from the Russian Foreign Ministry released by the embassy in Kabul.

“The touching’ concern about the Afghan farmers actually means, if not directly, then certainly indirectly, conniving (with) drug producers,” it said.

Last week, Russian U.N. ambassador Vitaly Churkin told the Security Council that U.S. and NATO commanders should continue to eradicate opium poppy fields.

NATO rejected the criticism and said Russia could best help by providing assistance to the fight the insurgency.

Moscow, which lost its own bitter war in Afghanistan during the 1980s, frequently criticizes the NATO military campaign.

U.S. Marines captured the former Taliban stronghold of Marjah last month in what was billed as the biggest offensive of the 8-year-old war. They say they will not eradicate opium there, but will pay poppy farmers to destroy their own crops and will then provide seed for them to plant other crops next year.

Afghanistan produces more than 90 percent of the world’s opium, a thick paste extracted from poppies and processed to make highly addictive heroin and then smuggled abroad. Military commanders say the trade funds the insurgency.

The Russian statement said the stance taken by the United States and NATO “ignores the fact that thousands of people die from heroin ... including in Afghanistan.” If NATO troops would not carry out eradication themselves, they should provide force protection for Afghans to do it, it said.

Poppy eradication has largely been seen as a failure by the international community. According to the United Nations, less than 4 percent of poppy planted in Afghanistan over the last two years was eradicated, and at a great human and economic cost.

Foreign troops in Afghanistan have never carried out poppy eradication themselves, but they have provided logistical support and security for Afghan eradication programs, and programs run by Western security contracting firms.

The United States said last year it would phase out its eradication efforts and would concentrate instead on interdiction of the drug, going after traffickers heroin factories.

Editing by Diana Abdallah