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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Iran issues drugs threat

Tehran (AFP) - Iran has threatened to allow traffickers to flood Europe with narcotics unless its costly border security operation is given a massive hike in United Nations funding.

The Islamic republic's new anti-drugs czar said Iran had asked the United Nations office on drugs and crime (UNODC) for a hefty $500m in order to combat smugglers from neighbouring Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Fada-Hossein Maleki said Iran also wanted to use the half-a-billion dollars in cash to fund substance abuse prevention and treatment projects inside Iran.

"For the moment, we do not allow drugs to transit, but if they do not aid us we will naturally reconsider," he told reporters on Sunday.

"The West should have a lot to fear if Iran changes its policy," Maleki said, adding that Iran "cannot tolerate a selective attitude in contributing financial aid" to the war on drugs.

Tried everything in drug war

The UNODC spent $13m in Iran last year and the anti-drug funding could go as high as $22m in 2006, said a source in their Tehran office.

But, the agency refused to comment on the new Iranian threat, which could see Europe - as well as much of the Middle East - flooded with cheaper heroin and hashish if it was carried out.

Iran says it has tried almost everything in its war on drugs: digging huge trenches along its porous borders with Pakistan and Afghanistan and even using helicopter gunships and tanks against well-armed traffickers.

Dealers are executed and anyone caught consuming drugs risks imprisonment, lashes and heavy fines.

Efforts are 'almost in vain'

In the past two decades, more than 2 650 tons of drugs have been seized in a battle that has cost the lives of about 3 500 members of the Iranian security forces and 10 000 smugglers.

But with a 1 000km border with leading opium producer Afghanistan, Iran argues its efforts to police it are more or less in vain unless Afghan authorities and foreign troops put an end to production.

"All these US and British forces could stop poppy cultivation in Afghanistan if they wanted to," said Maleki.
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