Kashmir steps up war on poppy as insurgency wanes
Police in Kashmir, usually accustomed to fighting separatist rebels, are swooping in on a different kind of enemy nowadays — vast fields of poppy, the source of heroin.
Authorities say they have stepped up efforts to destroy poppy fields spread over more than 5,000 acres in three districts of south Kashmir, an area where few years ago rebels and troops fought pitched gun battles every day.
"During the past three months, police has destroyed poppy cultivation spread over hundreds of acres and raids will continue till complete eradication," Showkat Malik, a senior police officer told Reuters.
But unlike in Afghanistan, the world's leading producer of opium which partly funds the Taliban insurgency there, Kashmir's poppy cultivators grow the crop as a means to supplement their meagre agricultural incomes, officials said.
Police said they had not made any arrests so far this year. But they have also not paid compensation to angry farmers whose fields they destroyed. Many of the farmers lost their year's only crop to these raids.
Officials say rebel violence, which broke out in 1989 in the disputed region, earlier hampered efforts to eradicate poppy fields in Kashmir, the valley which is the largest producer of poppy in northern India.
"Earlier there was a heavy militant presence in these areas, but now there is a lot of improvement (in the situation) making things very easy," said an excise department official, who did not want to be identified.
Violence involving Muslim militants and Indian troops has declined considerably after India and Pakistan, who claim the Kashmir region in full and rule it in parts, launched a peace process in 2004. That process remains suspended since the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
People are still killed in daily shootouts and occasional bomb explosions in Kashmir.
Authorities have also appealed for Muslim clerics to support the campaign and use their pulpits to denounce poppy growing and educate farmers.
"This has yielded positive results," Malik added.
In June, farmers typically extract hundreds of tonnes of opium by "milking" the poppy pods, which is smuggled to different cities to convert to heroin, excise officials say.
Kashmir which is famous for growing apples, almonds, walnuts, saffron and rice, is also known for growing cannabis and producing hashish.
Published on Tue, May 18, 2010 at 19:02
Source : Reuters
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