Friday, September 22, 2017

Myanmar promotes success in opium poppy substitution

Thailand is providing 350 million baht (US$10.4 million) in partnering with Myanmar to develop alternatives to opium poppy cultivation in 56 villages in the border area of Mong Hsat in Shan State, according to Vice President U Sai Mauk Kham.

Piles of seized drugs are set on fire during a ceremony to mark the UN International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Yangon on June 26. (Aung Myin Ye Zaw/The Myanmar Times)Piles of seized drugs are set on fire during a ceremony to mark the UN International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in Yangon on June 26. (Aung Myin Ye Zaw/The Myanmar Times)

Speaking on June 26 at a ceremony to mark the UN’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the vice president said Myanmar was also using $9.1 million for opium substitution projects that began in 2010 in Hopong, Pinlaung and Loileng in southern Shan State.

He added that the Ministry of Border Affairs had developed bridges and roads, demarcated lands for education, healthcare and agriculture, provided water supply and electricity access, and built television relay stations and religious facilities.

An ethnic Shan, U Sai Mauk Kham might well extol the merits of Myanmar’s anti-narcotics project as the country remains the world’s second-largest opium producer, with eastern Shan State accounting for most illegal poppy cultivation.

The UN estimates that opium poppy cultivation has nearly tripled over the past six years in Myanmar, which is also the region’s biggest supplier of methamphetamine.

However, opium cultivation in Myanmar stabilised in 2014, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. It said last December that the area under poppy remained about the same as in 2013, marking the first year since 2006 that cultivation did not expand.

Ceasefire deals agreed with armed ethnic groups are seen by experts as contributing to the growth in the illegal narcotics trade, which has pumped vast sums, possibly billions of dollars, into the legal economy.

“The profits from narcotics go into money laundering and corruption, and have had a lot of effects on the legal economy,” U Sai Mauk Kham said.

He said projects to replace opium poppy cultivation also included developing livestock, fishery resources and veterinary services. He said the Ministry of Agriculture had distributed perennial seedlings, seeds for seasonal crops, fertiliser and pesticides.

Myanmar, China, Thailand and Laos are sharing information at a security centre in Chiang Mai to combat the drugs trade in collaboration with the UNODC and national narcotics authorities, including the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the vice president said.

To mark the UN campaign on June 26, drugs worth about $245 million were crushed under a steamroller or torched in three locations, including Yangon, while in Thailand authorities torched nearly 9.5 tonnes of drugs with a street value of nearly $600 million.

Methamphetamine – known as yaba, or crazy medicine, in Thailand – dominates the global market for synthetic drugs “and is expanding significantly in east and southeast Asia”, the UNODC said. It urged governments and donor nations to pour cash into helping poor farmers find alternatives to illicit crops such as opium.

Colonel Thet Naing, deputy head of the Mandalay Region police office, said the amount of drugs destroyed in Mandalay on June 26 was less than last year, but this was due to stepped-up controls and anti-narcotics operations.

“We are working intensely on arrests. There are more checks than normal, so the amount of narcotics produced in and entering Mandalay decreased,” he said.

“The drugs we seized last year were so great that we had to pile them up outside our office because there was not enough space to store them. But it decreased this year,” he said.

Drugs with a street value of $6.73 million were burned in the stadium at the base of Mandalay Hill.

The seizures were made in Mandalay, Magwe and Sagaing regions, and in Kachin and Chin states. Last year police destroyed drugs worth $33.15 million.

Additional reporting by AFP
Translation by Thiri Min Htun