Afghan drugs trade funds terrorists

Prime Minister warns Russia that trade in narcotics is being used to fund terror groups
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The Independent Online

Tony Blair appealed to the Russians yesterday to help fight the international drugs trade, which he fears has become a major source of funds for terrorists.

The Prime Minister admitted that large quantities of heroin are still being produced in the poppy fields of Afghanistan, despite the war that overthrew the Taliban regime. His comments in St Petersburg also implied that criminal gangs from the former Soviet Union are involved in the drugs trade.

Mr Blair urged Russia's President, Vladimir Putin, to find a political solution to Russia's long-running conflict with the Muslim republic of Chechnya. Militant Chechens fought alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Chechen gangs are suspected of playing a big role in organised crime.

St Petersburg, which is celebrating its 300th anniversary, is playing host to about 40 world leaders - the biggest international gathering since the Iraq war. After two days of festivities, the world's major players will move on today to Evian, in France, for a two-day summit of G8 countries. The events have brought Tony Blair and George Bush together with the main opponents of the Iraq war, including France's Jacques Chirac, for the first time since the conflict ended.

Mr Blair told the EU-Russian summit in St Petersburg that the international drugs trade was "increasingly related" to terrorism and the risk that terrorists might get their hands on weapons of mass destruction.

He warned: "There is no way we can deal with issues to do with organised crime in our own countries unless we have greater co-operation.

"If we are going to ensure that terrorism is reduced, then we have to make political progress in Afghanistan and elsewhere and we have to give people an opportunity to develop a different way of life and a different way of increasing their living standards than reliance on the drugs trade," he said.

He also denied that his close alliance with President Bush had made him an outcast among European leaders. Television shots of Mr Blair talking privately to Jacques Chirac and Germany's Joschka Fischer suggested that both conversations were fraught, with finger-wagging and mutual rebukes.

But in an interview with Sky television, to be broadcast today, Mr Blair said: "People are seeing whether there is a concept of partnership that doesn't end up as subservience to America. They want to be partnering America, but they don't want to be America's servant. That's a perfectly understandable position."

The G8 summit, which brings together the leaders of the eight richest nations, will focus on the interlinked problems of world trade, Aids and other epidemics in Africa, and pollution.

* French police fired teargas yesterday to disperse several hundred anarchists who marched from an anti-G8 campsite near the French-Swiss border to blockade a meeting of French Socialist Party activists.