VIENNA - A controversy has erupted here over stemming the use of drug money to fund terrorism after the Madrid attacks, with a European think-tank saying UN policies were fuelling the problem instead of fighting it.
Members of the Network of European Foundation's (NEF) Comite de Sages on Wednesday said by seeking to prohibit drugs the United Nations was creating a profitable black market for them.
"This regime fosters terrorism because it provides the funds for terrorism and it endangers international security," NEF member Sir Keith Morris, a former British ambassador to Colombia, told a press conference.
Morris was speaking on the sidelines of the 47th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, after a symposium organised by the Senlis Council, a think tank on drug policy.
"The system is not working but it is not being debated at the UN, it is a taboo," he said.
The director general of the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, warned a day after the Madrid attacks on March 11 that there was a link between organised crime, including drug trafficking, and terror groups.
On Tuesday, Maria Costa signed a cooperation agreement in Vienna with Europol, singling out the fight against terrorism as a shared goal.
At the signing ceremony the chief of the European police, Juergen Storbeck called on countries and international organisations "to cooperate better" against terrorism, organised crime and drug trafficking.
He said that some terrorist groups had used drug money to finance their activities, including the Kurdish movement PKK in Turkey.
But former Interpol secretary general Raymond Kendall, a member of the NEF, argued Wednesday that the UN should "change its approach from repressive law enforcement to look at consumption and demand and harm reduction methods."
"The United Nations in 1998 set itself the aim of a drug free world by 2008. We are halfway down the road to 2008 and there are more drugs than ever. So much for the idea that we have made progress."
Eugene Oscapella, from the Canadian Foundation for Drug Policy, said: "The UN has not stopped to think that it is precisely prohibition that is making drugs such a desirable commodity."
The foundation argues in a recent paper that "the drug trade under a system of prohibition has become a major, if not the major, source of funding for many terrorist groups."
It says Afghanistan -- which produced 3,600 tonnes of opium poppies in 2003 according to the UN -- allowed the Taliban and its allies to control the European, Asian and Russian markets and reap huge spoils.
"Without prohibition these drugs would be worth much, much less. Columbia has coffee and cocaine. But it is cocaine money that is being used to fund left-wing and right-wing paramilitaries," he told AFP.
The Senlis Council also accused the UN of highlighting the link between drugs and terror as a scare tactic in the wake of the Madrid bombings and a way of seeking support for failed policies.
Senlis Council director Emmanuel Reinert told AFP: "The UN is focussing on this link with terror as a way of saying drugs should be banned, of creating support for its prohibition measures."
The group argues that the three UN drug treaties of 1961, 1971 and 1998 have failed for more than 40 years to curb the drug trade and abuse, and should make way for a means of regulating the trade.
In its report for 2003, the UN's International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) warned in February that Afghanistan's opium production was also fuelling the spread of HIV through Asia, the former Soviet states and South Africa.
The Senlis Council urged the provision of safe injecting rooms and clean needles for drug users, though these do not comply with its international drug control treaties.
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