Iran: More money needed to fight drugs ... or else

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 head said Iran had asked the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) for a hefty $500-million 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, ahead of the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

“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.

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

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

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, lashings and heavy fines.

Over 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 United States and British forces could stop poppy cultivation in Afghanistan if they wanted to,” Maleki said.

While Iran was previously a thoroughfare for smuggled drugs, the Islamic republic has developed its own serious addiction, with about two-million Iranians now considered to be drug users, and HIV/Aids infections on the rise.

But Iran has tried to change its approach to the problem by treating drug users as “criminals who need to be healed” rather than throwing them in already overcrowded jails.

Independent NGOs like the Narcotics Anonymous, set up in Iran in the mid-1990s, have been operating with the 30 000-strong group membership, holding meetings outdoors in many Iranian towns and cities.

Needle exchange and methadone projects have also been set up.

But Maleki said that there are also plans to isolate high-risk intravenous drug users in rehabilitation camps, where they can clean up and get vocational training.

“We realise there is a high percentage of HIV-positive people among them. They have to be continuously rounded up,” Maleki said.

“Sadly, prisons have a high population of drug offenders, and this way we can reduce the number of prisoners and supervise and control the prisons better.”—Sapa-AFP

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