Afghan rainstorms force Russian minister to cancel trip to Kabul


dpa German Press Agency
Published: Wednesday January 24, 2007

Moscow (dpa) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov cancelled a visit to Afghanistan Wednesday due to inclement weather in Kabul, the foreign ministry in Moscow said. "A planned one-day working visit to Afghanistan has been cancelled because the Kabul airport is not allowing any planes to land due to extremely bad weather," the ministry said in remarks run by Interfax.

A wintry mix of sleet and freezing rain was reported in the Afghan capital, with temperatures hovering above freezing at 1 to 2 degrees Celsius.

Lavrov had planned to meet with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Foreign Minister Rangin Spanta to discuss the Central Asian nation's postwar rebuilding campaign, bilateral relations and terrorist and drug threats, which have become a large problem for Russia.

After a US-led invasion ousted the fundamentalist Taliban in 2001, elements of the regime are said to have regained a broad streak of their former influence in tribal areas near the Pakistani border in Afghanistan's south-east.

Alexander Losyukov, Lavrov's deputy, on Wednesday said Russia intends to increase aid to Afghan, "especially in raising fighting capabilities and equipping the new Afghan army, securing its ability to independently defend its interests," Interfax reported.

Russian-Afghan trade has surpassed 200 million dollars since 2002, he noted.

Russian interests in a more lawful Afghanistan are rooted in no small part in Kabul's status as a narcotics power. Russian customs officials estimated Wednesday that 80 per cent of the heroin and 65 per cent of the opium that have devastated Russia come from Afghanistan.

Officials in Moscow say the illegal narcotics business in their country has hit 15 billion dollars per year - a figure that dwarves 200 million dollars over four years of legal trade with Afghanistan.

In Moscow, 626 people died from drug overdoses in 2006, an increase of over 400 per cent in the last three years and a phenomenon the city's health commissioner said "reflects the real situation in the city."

Vladimir Pronichev, head of Russia's Federal Border Guards Service, told Interfax that in four years the number of opium poppy crops in Afghanistan had more than doubled.

After the toppling of the Taliban, 74,000 hectares (740,000,000 square metres) of land was used to cultivate opium in 2002. Since the group has regained influence, that number has jumped to 165,000 hectares.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency