Colombia coca area down by 25% - UN

The area of land planted with coca -
the raw ingredient for cocaine - in
Colombia has fallen by 25%, a UN
report has said.
The land under coca cultivation is now
about a third of that in 2001, says the
UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
While coca areas fell nationwide, they
rose in three provinces plagued by
rebels and drug gangs.
Colombia is one the world's top three
cocaine producers and has made the
war on drugs one of its main priorities.
Prevention v eradication
The annual report by the UN's Integrated
Illicit Crops Monitoring System says that
the land planted with coca bushes has
dropped from 64,000 hectares in 2011
to 48,000 hectares in 2012, the lowest
figure since monitoring started in
Colombia more than a decade ago.
The report confirms preliminary figures
quoted to the BBC by the Colombian
Defence Minister in June .
Analysts say the fall in coca production
suggests illegal groups which have so far
financed themselves through drug
trafficking may increasingly be moving
into illegal gold and emerald mining,
both of which have been increasing in
Colombia.
The groups take advantage of the fact
that, unlike coca or cocaine, gold and
emeralds are legal to transport and sell.
Mine field
But the head of Colombia's counter-
narcotics police, Gen Luis Alberto Perez,
told the BBC that the UN figures showed
that their strategy to focus on the worst-
affected areas had worked.
Drug gangs and Farc rebels turn coca leaves
into cocaine to finance themselves
He said that even though the police had
eradicated less coca than in previous
years, the force had increased its
presence in those regions where most of
the coca was grown, preventing people
from planting coca bushes in the first
place.
He also praised the government's social
programmes, which aim to convince
farmers to switch from growing coca to
legal crops.
The UNODC report, which uses satellite
imagery to map areas planted with coca,
says that there was an increase in coca
plantations in three provinces: Norte de
Santander, Choco and Caqueta.
According to Gen Perez, police activity in
these three provinces was hampered by
left-wing Farc rebels and drug gangs.
The general says an increased use of
landmines by these groups means that
eradication workers cannot pull out the
plants by hand without the risk of
stepping on a mine.
Border trouble
The border regions have the highest
density of coca plants, with the southern
town of Tumaco again topping the list.
Gen Perez says a ban on aerial
eradication - using planes to spray
herbicides on coca plants - in a 10km-
wide (6-mile wide) strip next to the
border has made this area a magnet for
drug growers.
Colombia agreed to the exclusion zone
after Ecuador brought a complaint
against its neighbour at the International
Court of Justice in 2008 saying its
territory was being poisoned by the
spraying.
According to UN figures released earlier
this week, coca growing also decreased
in Bolivia.
The UNODC said coca cultivation had
dropped by 7% between 2011 and 2012
to 25,300 hectares.
Bolivia is, along with Colombia and Peru,
among the world's top three producers
of cocaine.
The figures for Peru are expected to be
released over the next weeks.