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UN's Drug Czar Lambastes Taliban and FARC, Calls Myanmar Problematic, Dodges North Korea

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, June 26 -- The UN's Vienna-based narcotics and crime czar Antonio Maria Costa regaled Ambassadors and reporters on Thursday with his view of the war on drugs. He correlated drug production with the strength of rebel groups, listing the Taliban, Colombia's FARC and, in a historical footnote, Alberto Fujimori's crackdown on the Shining Path and drugs in Peru.  Inner City Press asked if he was unequivocally promoting the strengthening of all governments, for example in Myanmar and North Korea.

   Costa paused while his colleague cued up some slides about Myanmar. "It's problematic," Costa intoned, "to deal with a country with which we have severe problems with human rights." He went on to say that despite an "uptick" in 2007, opium production in Myanmar is generally down, and confined to the eastern part of the country. "Let's be honest," he said," there's limited control by government there." He said that Laos has been certified as opium free, but there are still "cohorts" of old people addicted to heroin, which is brought in from Myanmar.  The North Korea portion of the question he did not answer as all, despite reports of governmental involvement in the drug trade.

Costa and Sheikh from Qatar, Myanmar and North Korea not shown

  Also from the audience came impassioned criticism of Costa's UN Office of Drugs and Crime from the Ambassador of Cape Verde, who disputed the area devoted to drug cultivation, and of Colombia, who told Costa to stop correlating narcotics production with the strength of the government. She said that the strength of the FARC has waned, even though drug production numbers are up. Stick with the numbers, she counseled, stick with the facts. That's good advice.

Footnote: A representative from the Afghan mission, on the other hand, lavishly praised Costa as a hero. Costa good naturedly formed a T with his hands, signaling "time out," wrap it up, which the Afghan envoy did. There were still piles of Costa's report, and turkey and mushroom sandwiches, in the back of the Trygve Lie Center for Peace, Security & Development at the International Peace Institute. The Center, with a view of the UN from the 12th floor right across First Avenue, was being prepared for another event later in the evening, a farewell to the head of UN peacekeeping Jean-Marie Guehenno, hosted by IPI's (and the UN's) Terje Roed-Larsen. This was pitched as "off the record," while Mr. Costa's presentation was decidedly on the record, hence this brief account.

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These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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