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U.N. Sticks To Anti-Drug Program

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Representatives of 142 countries said Thursday they would stick to the strict policies established at a U.N. anti-drug summit five years ago, despite critics' allegations the program is ineffective.

Participants in a U.N. Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting said in a statement they remained committed to the campaign to curb cultivation, trafficking and consumption by 2008.

Though progress has been made in the five years since that meeting, a lot of "unfinished business'' remains, said Antonio Maria Costa, the director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime.

"Synthetic drugs are definitely a most dramatic problem (as is) cannabis, which is by stealth infiltrating our minds and our society ... in terms of acceptance," Costa told reporters Thursday.

In earlier remarks to participants, Costa said the abuse of synthetic drugs, such as amphetamines, are "evolving into public enemy No. 1."

"The stuff is produced everywhere in the world, in hard-to-detect mom-and-pop shops, and in Mafia-run undertakings capable of producing millions of doses," Costa said.

Cannabis, meanwhile, was "the most widely produced, trafficked and consumed illicit drug," he said.

Another cause for concern was the abuse of injection drugs in former Soviet countries, which sparked a dangerous spread of the HIV virus, Costa said.

Critics allege that the U.N. strategy is failing. They say the tough approach does not fit all countries, and that it forces drug users underground.

But Costa dismissed those concerns, insisting that the U.N. approach is effective and flexible enough.

"We are liberal in the sense that we want to liberate individuals from drug addiction," he said.

He said Cambodia and North Korea -- countries that have not yet signed the U.N. drug treaties -- were "progressing" toward adopting the measures.

A joint statement approved by representatives at the meeting said "progress has been uneven." It also expressed deep concern for the "threats posed by continuing links between illicit drug trafficking and terrorism and other ... criminal activities, such as trafficking in human beings."

The goals outlined five years ago remained distant and it was unclear whether they would be met by 2008 as envisioned, Costa conceded.

"We can only try to work very hard to meet them," he said.

By Susanna Loof