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Drugs in Myanmar - still in the 'too hard' basket

Publication Date : 22-12-2013


There is a bad tendency to think that changes in the political situation in Myanmar will have a positive affect on other things, like race relations and the ending the drug trade, which has long been linked to rebellion and insurgency.

But according to the latest estimate from the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime, opium production in the Golden Triangle, an area that links Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, has increased by 22 per cent this year. As for Myanmar, also known as Burma, opium production rose 26 per cent in comparison to 2012.

The UN agency estimated that Myanmar produced some 870 tonnes of opium this year, the highest since 2002 when the world body and the Myanmar government did a joint assessment of the poppy crop in the country.

In fact, this year marked the seventh consecutive years that opium poppy cultivation in this somewhat lawless region has risen.

"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 for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

"We need to act quickly. The Golden Triangle is the geographic centre of the Greater Mekong sub-region, and plans are well underway to expand transport and infrastructure and lower trade barriers and border controls across the region. The organised criminal networks that benefit from Southeast Asia's illicit drug trade are well positioned to take advantage of regional integration," Douglas added.

Well, the UNODC rep didn't say anything the world doesn't already know. The root cause he is talking about is rooted in the political impasse between the government and armed ethnic groups, many of who rely on opium and other illicit drugs, like methamphetamines, to finance their struggle against the central government.

In other words, no narcotic policy for Myanmar has any chance of success unless it factors in the desire and demands of the ethnic groups. Although most have entered into ceasefire agreements with the central government, one should not misunderstood that these are peace deals.

Many of these ceasefire agreements were inked in the late 1980s shortly after the fall of the Communist Party of Burma. But it was the former Burmese junta that violated these agreements two decades later when they tried to forced the ethnic armies to join and answer to the national army.

Thailand has born the brunt of repercussions from Myanmar's internal strife and the fact that 92 per cent of the opium cultivation takes place in Shan State, which borders Thailand's north, and many methamphetamine and heroin labs are situated near the Thai border. That makes Thailand a stakeholder in this conflict.

But successive Thai governments only paid lip service to the fight against drugs and have never been all that serious about addressing the root cause of the problem for fear of antagonising the Myanmar government. Making a big stink out of illicit drugs coming from Burma could jeopardise potential business deals with the Burmese.


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