Dec 13, 2012

Myanmar - UNODC: Burma remains ‘top source of drugs’ in region

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Methamphetamine remains the top illicit drug threat in East and Southeast Asia, according to a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report – “2012 Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants and Other Drugs, Asia and the Pacific” – launched at Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand today.

Seizures of methamphetamine pills have increased more than five-fold since 2007, says UNODC, noting that amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are now either the number one or number two illicit drug of use in 13 of the 15 Asia Pacific countries surveyed in the report.

Burma remains the top source of illicit methamphetamine pills in East and Southeast Asia, and is also a source of crystalline methamphetamine, according to the UNODC report, which says that ‘significant quantities’ of crystal meth are also produced in China, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, with ‘large-scale manufacturing’ reported in Cambodia.

“The methamphetamine problem in East and Southeast Asia continues to worsen,” said Mr. Gary Lewis, UNODC Regional Representative, East Asia and the Pacific.

“During the past five years, the availability and use of methamphetamine has increased significantly. This and the increasing involvement of transnational organized criminal groups in the illicit trade of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) pose a growing threat to the both security and public health in the region,” Gary Lewis said.

The report, 2012 Patterns and Trends of Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS) and Other Drugs, Asia and the Pacific, says that users of ATS – a category which includes amphetamines, methamphetamine, methcathinone, and ecstasy-group substances – were the primary drug of use for 70% of all persons in drug treatment in the region in 2011.

Reported methamphetamine use increased in 11 of 15 countries surveyed in East and Southeast Asia. The use of methamphetamine in pill form increased in all six countries that comprise the Greater Mekong Subregion – Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand and Vietnam.

According to the UNODC Report, Myanmar (Burma) 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, for the first time, a crystalline methamphetamine manufacturing facility was seized in 2012. Large amounts of methamphetamine in pill and crystalline form originating from Burma continue to be seized in neighbouring countries.

The report also highlights that in the region, Myanmar (Burma) 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.

Most illicit methamphetamine manufacture in Shan State takes place in small, mobile facilities located in border areas near China and Thailand, primarily in territories controlled by active or former ethnic insurgent groups, many of which now operate as criminal syndicates rather than politically motivated insurgents, the report says.

Additionally, the UNODC report says that opium poppy cultivation has increased in Myanmar (Burma) 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 Shan Drug Watch 2012, if political settlement of long-standing ethnic dissatisfaction is not reached, the armed conflict that fuel Burma’s drug epidemic will never end. The Shan Drug Watch 2012 newsletter – ‘New Shan Drug Watch report: political solution needed to end drug scourge in Burma’ – released on International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking (26 June).

To stop growing poppy, an alternative cash crop must be provided. According to some political analysts, poppy growing and opium production in Shan State have increased over the past two years due to political volatility in Burma and growing economic despondency caused by cronyism, corruption and unprofessional conduct of the government.

As said by Khuensai Jaiyen, author of Shan Drug Watch, Burma Army controlled ‘People’s Militia Forces’ (PMF), set up by the governmen supporting its operations against rebel forces, have become key players in the drug trade, both heroin and ATS. However, government authorities’ involvement in the drug problem is being easily ignored by the international community since it embraces Burma’s new Thein Sein administration which acts as a reformist.

At least six well-known drug lords in Burma represented the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). They are now taking parliament seats along with other members of parliament since the 7 November 2010 elections, according to the Shan Drug Watch report.

As the drug problem has intertwined with the country’s long-lasting political fiasco, stakeholders of Burma should not underestimate the impact of drug-trafficking throughout the country. It may severely damage the designated reform task supported by the western democracies.

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