Declan Walsh

Kabul: Afghan officials have reprimanded British diplomats over a campaign by U.K. troops in Helmand telling farmers that growing poppies was understandable and acceptable.

A radio message broadcast across the province assured local farmers that the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) would not interfere with poppy fields currently being harvested.

``Respected people of Helmand. The soldiers of ISAF and ANA do not destroy poppy fields,'' it said.

``They know that many people of Afghanistan have no choice but to grow poppy. ISAF and the ANA do not want to stop people from earning their livelihoods.''

The advertisement, which was drafted by British officers and carried on two local stations, infuriated Afghan officials as high up as President Hamid Karzai, who demanded an explanation.

After a series of stormy meetings NATO announced that it was dropping the ads. ``We recognised this was a mistake and addressed it as soon as possible,'' said spokesman Nicholas Lunt.