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Colombian president says ‘surprised’ over UN coca report


Bogota : Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has said he was surprised by the report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which placed his country being the top coca producer, EFE reported Sunday.

“It surprises us greatly that a year-long effort was carried out and it’s as if that year had been lost,” Uribe said Saturday in his first public response to the UNODC report released Wednesday.

According to the report, the area sown with coca, the raw material of cocaine, in Colombia rose to 99,000 hectares in 2007 from 78,000 hectares the previous year, an increase by 27 percent.

In addition to leading the world in area under coca cultivation, Colombia last year maintained its status as the world’s No. 1 producer of cocaine, though that output fell slightly to 600 tonnes in 2007, said the study conducted by the UNODC, which operates the so-called satellite-based Illicit Crop Monitoring Programme.

Uribe confirmed in Cerete, a northwestern town where he had travelled on an official visit, that his government has decided to hire a national or international organization to measure the area under cultivation with crops that are the source for illegal drugs.

“We’re going to hire them so they tell us the truth, and tell us the total amount of illicit crop cultivation every month, every two months,” Uribe said, adding that the UNODC figures do not coincide with the US government’s findings, which are released separately each year.

The US provides billions of dollars in aid to the Andean nation every year under Plan Colombia, a programme to battle drugs and leftist rebels.

On Thursday, other top Colombian officials have also expressed misgivings with the methodology used in compiling the report.

National Police chief Oscar Naranjo told reporters that the report of a large increase in area under cultivation was surprising considering that Colombian authorities eradicated triple the amount of coca crops in 2007 compared with the previous year.