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Tashkent facing drug onslaught as regional heroin production booms

[Uzbekistan] Testing seized heroin.
Testing seized heroin (IRIN)

Uzbek law enforcement bodies on Tuesday burned 566 kg of illegal narcotics, including 381 kg of heroin, as part of their fight against illicit drug trafficking. Uzbekistan is becoming one of the main drug transit routes following the significant increase in Afghan opium output last year.

"Drug dealers are increasingly trying to use Uzbekistan to shift Afghan-made drugs to Russia and further afield to Europe. This is directly connected to the big opium harvest in neighbouring Afghanistan in 2003," Shuhrat Azimov, an Uzbek security service official, told IRIN as bags of heroin, hashish, opium and marihuana were put in a furnace in front of representatives of international donor organisations, diplomats and journalists.

Uzbekistan, the populous Central Asian country neighbouring Afghanistan - the world's leading supplier of illicit opium, morphine and heroin, conducted the first destruction of narcotics in 1994 and since then has burned more than 36 tons.

"Uzbekistan attaches great importance to fulfilling its international obligations to combat illegal drug trafficking and Uzbek law enforcement bodies are closely cooperating with foreign partners in this fight," the security service official said.

According to official statistics, illegal drug trafficking has significantly increased this year. More than 600 kg of narcotics were seized in the first six months of 2004, of which 295.1 kg was heroin, twice as much than in the same period of 2003.

Since the beginning of the year, Uzbek law enforcement bodies have registered more than 4,000 incidents of illegal drug trafficking. In five or six cases the involvement of police officials was exposed, according to the security service official.

Drug smugglers mostly use Uzbekistan's southern borders, especially in Kashkadarya and Surkhandarya provinces, that touch on both Tajikistan and Afghanistan, en route to Kazakhstan and thence to Russia and Europe.

With poppy cultivation in Afghanistan expected to increase by 40 percent this year, drug related crimes may continue to rise, as drug dealers use impoverished people in the Central Asian countries, including women, to smuggle the heroin, experts believe.

Uzbekistan, facing drug-related crimes after gaining independence in 1991, has been implementing a number of joint projects with UN agencies to combat drug trafficking and prevent drug abuse among the country's youth.

"We have been implementing several projects to address the drug issue in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan," Erkin Musaev, country manager of the Central Asian Drug Action Programme (CADAP), funded by the European Union and implemented by UNDP, told IRIN.

"The programmes includes information sharing among regional countries, supplying border checkpoints with special equipment, improving the legal framework for fighting drug crime, training prosecutors and judges to deal with drug abuse, and monitoring drug use in prisons," he added.

IRIN has produced a comprehensive series of articles and resources on Afghan opium proliferation in the form of a Web Special

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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