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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2557

Burma: Who are involved in drug trade?

By - Zin Linn

Successive regimes in Burma/Myanmar fail to eradicate the opium growing and drug trade more than six decades. If truth be told, the authorities in poppy growing areas themselves have involved in this cancerous opium producing business in several ways. Besides, some observers say that some government officials and rebel members also profit from the thriving drug trade.

If the strategy of the government’s peace process is not candid, drug trade will continue certainly, as the drug is a kind of weapon for all armed services to grab uppermost authority. Thus, a bargain to guarantee ending of civil war in the country is needed to address the drug trafficking without delay.

The drug problem has entangled with the country’s ongoing political challenges since Myanmar gained its independence. Underestimation of the impact of drug-trafficking all through the country may severely hurt the planned reform mission supported by the western democracies.

On 18 December, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime said that official efforts to eradicate opium production in Myanmar are declining since poor farmers have no option to make a living. The UNODC estimated in its annual Southeast Asia Opium Survey that Myanmar will produce 870 metric tons of opium in 2013, remaining the world's second-largest cultivator after Afghanistan. In comparison with 2012 production, it is likely 26 % getting higher.

The UNODC report, Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2013 - Lao PDR, Myanmar, says that, despite eradication efforts, higher yields combined with a rise in cultivation saw Myanmar opium production increase 26 per cent in 2013 to an estimated 870 tonnes - the highest since assessments by UNODC and the Myanmar Government began in 2002.

In 2013, Lao PDR and Myanmar produced 893 tonnes of opium - 18 per cent of global opium production - a 22 per cent increase from 2012, and 2.7 times more than in 2005 when they produced 326 tonnes.
"These figures make clear that we need to step up efforts to address the root causes of cultivation and promote alternatives to poppy growing," said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative, Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The UNODC 2012-report says that opium poppy cultivation has increased in Myanmar for six consecutive years. Opium poppy cultivation is at far lower levels than in the mid-1990s but has increased in the past six years. The total opium-poppy cultivation area in Myanmar in 2012 was estimated at 51,000 ha, a 17% increase from the 43,600 ha cultivation area in 2011.

In 2012, potential opium production increased by 13% to 690 mt. During the year, an estimated 300,000 households were involved in opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar.

According to the UNODC’s 2012 Report, Myanmar remains a major source of methamphetamine pills and opiates in Southeast Asia, most of which are manufactured in Shan State in the eastern part of the country. The report also says a crystalline methamphetamine manufacturing facility was seized in 2012 for the first time. Large amounts of methamphetamine in pill and crystalline form originating from Myanmar continue to be seized in neighboring countries.

The report also highlights that in the region, Myanmar becomes one of the key sources of methamphetamine for a number of illicit drug markets in the past decade and a half or so. Most methamphetamine manufacture in Myanmar takes place in the mountainous and remote terrain of eastern Shan State, a region affected by drug trafficking, and political instability for much of the past six decades.

UNODC says that surveys concerning farmers in Golden Triangle poppy-growing villages give an idea about food insecurity and poverty since cash from poppy cultivation is crucial for villagers.

"Our survey shows a strong link between poverty and poppy cultivation," said Jason Eligh, UNODC Myanmar Country Manager. "Opium farmers are not bad people, they are poor people. Money made from poppy cultivation is an essential part of family income. In poppy growing villages, significantly more households are in debt and food insecure than in non-poppy growing villages."

"Villagers threatened with food insecurity and poverty need sustainable economic alternatives or they will continue, out of desperation, to grow opium as a cash crop," Mr. Eligh said.

According to the UNODC's press statement released on 25 June 2013, "There is an alarming new drug problem. Demand has soared for substances not under international control, which are posing significant public health challenges. Therefore, the 2013 UNODC global awareness campaign "Make health your 'new high' in life, not drugs" aims to inform the public, particularly young people, about the harmful effects of new psychoactive substances (NPS). Sold openly, including online, these untested concoctions can be far more dangerous than traditional drugs."

According to some political analysts, poppy growing and opium making in Shan State have amplified over the past two years by reason of political instability in the country and growing economic disorder caused by cronyism, corruption and unprincipled behaviors of the government.

Most analysts pointed out Shan State's current drug crisis as main cause of poverty. Opium crops only need a short time to cultivate and promptly create profits for broke farmers. To stop growing poppy along with fighting poverty, government must provide an alternative cash crop systematically by using uncorrupt civil servants.

Government should not neglect about some drug related MPs sitting in the Parliament along with other members of parliament since the 7 November 2010 elections, the 2012 Shan Drug Watch report mentioned. As a minimum, six distinguished drug barons represented the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Shan Drug Watch report says.

The Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) released a new report on June 19 spotlighting the trafficking and use of drugs within the Mon communities as a systemic scheme. There are no government initiatives prepared to prevent this, HURFOM said.

The 63-page report titled "Bitter Pills: Breaking the Silence Surrounding Drug Problems in the Mon Community" highlights the widespread trafficking of drugs and consumption by Mon communities. The report that draws on the testimonies 140 residents in Mon and Karen states, calls for immediate action by the government, local authorities, ethnic political parties and civil society groups.

According to Kachinland News, Kachin people marked the international day against drug abuse and illicit trafficking ceremony under the banner of UNODC's 2013 global awareness campaign slogan "Make health your ‘new high’ in life, not drugs" in Laiza. Salang Kaba Lajawng Hkawng Lum, deputy chief of KIO's drug eradication committee, said KIO will continue to work for total elimination of drug across the Kachin region.

Every person, including President U Thein Sein, needs to play a part in protecting the youth of the country from death-defying drug addiction. He must help the UNODC’s Drug Campaign to raise awareness on the subject of the illicit drugs that intimidate especially to young population. If the President failed to fight against the terrible drug trafficking, it will damage not only his reform process, but also spoil the future generations of the nation.

- Asian Tribune -

Burma: Who are involved in drug trade?
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