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Oct 23, 4:57 AM EDT

Report shows increase in Afghanistan opium poppy cultivation

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghanistan saw an increase of 10 percent in opium poppy cultivation and 91 percent decrease in eradication across the country, according to a new joint survey released Sunday by the UN and Afghan government.

The report released Sunday showed the total area under cultivation in Afghanistan at an estimated 201,000 hectares (496,681 acres) in 2016, a 10 percent increase from the 183,000 hectares (452,200 acres) in 2015. It said no eradication took place in provinces with high levels of opium poppy cultivation due to the extremely poor security situation in those areas, as well as logistical and financial challenges.

Overall, the potential opium production in Afghanistan increased 43 percent, with 4,800 tons this year compared to 3,300 tons in 2015, Salamat Azimi, Afghan counter-narcotics minister, said in a joint news conference with the UN in Kabul.

"It is very disturbing to see a considerable increase in poppy cultivation in the north which may be linked with a deteriorating security situation in the region," said Andrey Avetisyan, head of United Nation Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan.

Avetisyan said there was one less poppy-free province this year, northern Jawzjan province, bringing the total number of poppy-free provinces down to 13 of the country's 34 provinces.

However, he said he was "in way satisfied that in a very difficult year as this one, in terms of security and challenges, we are witnessed only a 10 percent overall increase in cultivation and decrease in many traditionally high cultivated provinces in the south."

The Taliban, which have been waging war against the Afghan government since 2001, are heavily involved in poppy cultivation and opium distribution especially in areas under their control. They recently stepped up their attacks against Afghan security forces in northern region of the country.

Billions of dollars have been spent on counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan in the past decade, including programs encouraging farmers to switch to other cash crops like wheat, fruit and saffron.

Gen. Baz Mohammad Ahmadi, deputy interior minister for the counter narcotic police, said his forces have conducted 1,263 operations this year, in which they arrested 1,408 opium traffickers including government employees and foreigners, confiscated just over 238 tons of opium and destroyed at least 35 labs across the country.

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