Abdullah, a black-turbaned shepherd, said he was watching over his sheep one night in early February when he heard a plane pass low overhead three times. By morning his eyes were so swollen he could not open them and the sheep around him were dying in convulsions. \nAlthough farmers had noticed a white powder on their crops, they cut grass and clover for their animals and picked spinach to eat anyway. Within hours the animals were severely ill, people here said, and the villagers complained of fevers, skin rashes and bloody diarrhea. The children were particularly affected. A week later, the crops -- wheat, vegetables and poppies -- were dying, and a dozen dead animals, including newborn lambs, lay tossed in a heap. \nThe incident on Feb. 3 has left the herders of sheep and goats in this remote mountain area in Helmand Province deeply angered and suspicious. They are convinced that someone is surreptitiously spraying their lands or dusting them with chemicals, presumably in a clandestine effort to eradicate Afghanistan's bumper poppy crop, the world's leading source of opium. \nThe incident in Kanai was not the first time that Afghan villagers -- or Afghan government officials -- had complained of what they suspected was nighttime spraying. In November, villagers in Nimla, in Nangarhar Province, said their fields, too, had been laced with chemicals when a plane passed overhead several times during the night. \nAfterward, Afghan and foreign officials who investigated returned with samples of tiny gray granules that they said provided evidence that spraying had occurred. Two Western embassies sent samples abroad for analysis but have not yet received the results. \nAt that time, President Hamid Karzai publicly condemned the spraying. Though it was never clear who was responsible, members of his staff said they suspected the US or Britain, which together have been leading the struggle to rein in Afghan poppy cultivation, which has reached record levels. Both countries finance outside security firms to train Afghan counternarcotics forces. \nKarzai said his government was not spraying fields and had no knowledge of such activity, and he called in the US and British ambassadors for an explanation. Then, as now, the US and British Embassies denied any involvement. \n"There is no credible evidence that aerial spraying has taken place in Helmand," the US Embassy said in a statement this time. "No agency, personnel or contractors associated with the United States government have conducted or been involved in any such activity in Helmand or any other province of Afghanistan." \nAn Afghan government delegation sent to investigate the latest incident said it found no evidence of aerial spraying. Rather, "a naturally occurring disease" had killed the crops and animals, Lt. Gen. Muhammad Daoud, deputy interior minister for counternarcotics, said in a statement. \nAgriculture Ministry officials said the extremely cold weather could have affected the crops. They added, however, that the ministry lacked the technical capacity to analyze samples for chemicals. \nBut the people in Kanai, neighboring Tanai and at least two other villages are incredulous. For them, there is no doubt that someone sprayed their lands and, despite official denials, they blame the United States, which still controls the skies in Afghanistan. \n"They are the ones with the planes," said Abdul Ahmad, brother of the shepherd, Abdullah. \nBetween them, the brothers had lost 200 animals from symptoms that suggested poisoning, he said. \nWhile the mystery lingers around who may be responsible for a secret aerial eradication campaign here -- or even whether one is actually being carried out -- there is no doubt that Afghanistan's booming poppy crop has been an intensifying concern to United States, British and other international officials. \nIn November, a U.N. report found that more than 300,000 acres in Afghanistan had been planted with poppies and expressed concern that the country was degenerating into a narcostate. US and other officials said they feared the drug trade had insinuated itself into virtually every corner of the Afghan economy and was financing rebels. \nSome US officials, particularly those in international narcotics and law enforcement, have for months advocated aerial spraying to gain control of the problem. \nDiplomats and other foreign officials involved in agriculture programs and counternarcotics efforts here said there was a discussion in 2004 between US officials and other donors over whether to use aerial eradication to stem poppy cultivation, which expanded 64 percent last year. \nIn December, the Bush administration presented to Congress a budget request for US$152 million for aerial spraying as part of a US$776 million aid package for counternarcotics operations in Afghanistan for 2005. \nIn January, it dropped the budget line for aerial spraying because of Karzai's clear opposition, a US official in Kabul said. Word of the budget request prompted 31 nonprofit groups, led by CARE International, to sign an open letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Jan. 31 expressing concern over what they considered the excessive emphasis on eradication in the US administration's counternarcotics strategy in Afghanistan. \n"Widespread eradication in 2005 could undermine the economy and devastate already poor families without giving rural development projects sufficient time to provide alternative sources of income," the agencies warned. They called for concentration on interdiction of traffickers and support for farmers instead. \nYet US officials have not ruled out the possible need for aerial eradication and financing, which was included in a supplemental request in February for US$82 billion by the Bush administration for Iraq and Afghanistan, a US counternarcotics official in Kabul said.
An Australian university student who has never visited China and has only a modest social media following would seem an unlikely target for the Chinese government. However, when a Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman personally denounced Drew Pavlou at a news conference, it was just the next phase in an extraordinary campaign against the 21-year-old that has fueled concerns over China’s targeting of critics overseas. Pavlou first placed himself in the superpower’s sights when in July last year he organized a small sit-in at the University of Queensland, where he studies, to protest against various Chinese government policies. Since then, the Global
BEFORE WINTER COMES: Snow cuts off roads into Ladakh for four months or more each year, so the crunch is on to get food, tents and high-altitude equipment to Leh From deploying mules to large transport aircraft, the Indian military has activated its entire logistics network to transport supplies to thousands of troops for a harsh winter along a bitterly disputed Himalayan border with China. In the past few months, one of India’s biggest military logistics exercises in years has brought vast quantities of ammunition, equipment, fuel, winter supplies and food into Ladakh, a region bordering Tibet that India administers as a union territory, officials said. The move was triggered by a border standoff with China in the snow deserts of Ladakh that began in May and escalated in June into hand-to-hand
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A Malaysian student whose cellphone was stolen while he was sleeping has tracked down the culprit: a monkey who took photo and video selfies with the device before abandoning it. Zackrydz Rodzi, 20, on Wednesday said that his mobile phone was missing from his bedroom when he woke up on Saturday. He found the phone’s casing under his bed, but there was no sign of robbery in his house in Johor state. JUNGLE When his father saw a monkey the next day, he searched in the jungle behind his house. Using his brother’s cellphone to call his own device, he found it covered