Burma junta 'unwilling' to aid opium eradication

July 10, 2009 (DVB), Prohibition on poppy cultivation enforced by armed groups in Burma's Shan state has caused a dramatic cut in opium production, although the government has been 'unwilling' to help, says a report.

Bowing to pressure from neighbouring countries, most notably China, two key armed groups in Shan state have implemented bans on growing poppies for opium.

Once the world's biggest source of the drug, the northern Burmese state has significantly reduced its opium output, although the 80 percent of the population formerly reliant on growing the crop have since struggled for subsistence.

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) received support from aid agencies and governments to kick start alternative forms of income for farmers.

Yet, says the report, From Golden Triangle to Rubber Belt?, the Burmese government has "been unwilling and unable to provide assistance".

Last month an expert on Burma's opium trade, Khuensai Jaiyen, told DVB that he "[didn't] see any drug eradication programme" from the government, let alone provision of alternative means of livelihood.

Furthermore, current levels of assistance supplied by NGOs and the UN "are insufficient, and need to be upgraded in order to provide sustainable alternatives for the population", say the Transnational Institute (TI), who released the report yesterday.

Many farmers are now struggling to provide for themselves and their families, the report said, given that poppy is the only viable crop in many highland areas in Shan state.

"It has been extremely difficult for them to cultivate more food, grow alternative cash crops or find casual labour to solve their food gap," it said.

In the place of poppy cultivation, the UWSA and MNDAA, who control large areas of Shan state, have developed rubber plantations with assistance from China, where demand for rubber is soaring.

According to US publication Jane's Intelligence Review, the UWSA receives political and economic support from China, including financial assistance and weaponry, and China has been keen to exert some authority over exports from Shan state.

According to a UN report released last month, Burma remains the world's second largest source of opium, behind Afghanistan, although output is beginning to steady.

Around 28,500 of the world's 189,000 hectares for poppy cultivation are in Burma, which last year produced around 4000 metric tons of opium.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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