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Greater compliance in international drug control needed

More work was needed in bringing Turkmenistan in compliance with international drug control treaties in the region, the International Narcotics Board (INCB), an independent UN body monitoring global drug proliferation, told IRIN on Wednesday. "There is still a lot more to be done on the part of the [Turkmen] government in complying with the provisions of international drug control treaties and it is premature to assess any progress made by the government in addressing the drug control situation in the country," Herbert Schaepe, Secretary of the INCB, said from Vienna. This is despite a recent decision by Ashgabat to participate in Operation Topaz (an inter-governmental operation led by the INCB to detect and /or prevent precursor chemicals used for the illicit manufacture of heroin), a decision the board welcomed, he added. Turkmenistan shares more than 700 km of border with Afghanistan, the top producer of opium in the world today, but remained the only country neighbouring the fledgling state yet to participate. Earlier this year, the Vienna-based INCB sharply criticised the government of Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov for not doing more in the global fight against illicit drugs trafficking. The largely desert, but energy-rich nation of 5 million lies northwest of Afghanistan, a primary source country for illicit drug trafficking, accounting for 75 percent of the world's opium production. According to Schaepe, following a mission to Turkmenistan in December 2003, the INCB, while communicating its findings and recommendations to the Turkmen authorities, expressed its dissatisfaction at the manner Ashgabat had been complying with its treaty obligations, particularly when taking into consideration its geographical location. Additional concerns over the government's continuous failure to provide data on the extent of drug abuse and illicit drug trafficking in the country, the absence of effective mechanisms for the control of precursor chemicals used in the illicit manufacture of drugs and the failure to adopt effective measures against money laundering were also raised. "The Board was also concerned that Turkmenistan did not participate in several regional drug control activities aimed at preventing illicit drugs and precursors from being smuggled through Central Asia," the INCB official said. Calling the climate of poppy cultivation and opium production in neighbouring Afghanistan as serious - with an increased number of farmers involved - Schaepe described the drug trafficking situation along the border between Turkmenistan and Afghanistan as tougher and more challenging. "Addressing the situation will require the Turkmen government's strong commitment, and more importantly to translate such commitment into action, particularly in areas of law enforcement and cooperation at the regional and international levels," he pointedly noted. "The strengthening of drug control in Turkmenistan should therefore be a matter of priority and importance to the Government of Turkmenistan." But while he hoped Ashgabat, with its decision to participate in Operation Topaz and its readiness to continue dialogue with the board, would take further steps to ensure that the above situations were adequately addressed, he remained realistic of the challenge at hand. "The Board will continue to follow closely the drug control situation in Turkmenistan, and evaluate, at forthcoming sessions, progress made by the government in fulfilling its treaty obligations."
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