Drugs 'worth $20m' destroyed

Nov 2, 2009 (DVB), Around $US20 million worth of seized drugs were destroyed by Burmese police during a "ceremony" last week in northern Burma, state-run media reported today.

The event took place in the Kokang region of Shan state, which in August and September was the site of heavy fighting between Burmese troops and an ethnic Kokang army.

Shan state is the world's second largest heroin producer after Afghanistan. Recently however it has seen a huge growth in methamphetamine, or 'yaba', production.

Thailand-based journalist Bertil Lintner, who has written extensively on Burma's drugs trade, said however that the ceremony was "nonsense", continuing that remains "business as usual in the golden triangle".

He described the burning as a "public relations exercise", adding that "if anything it just drives the price of drugs higher".

Furthermore, the $US20 million price-tag the government put on the destroyed drugs would be more akin to prices in consumer countries, and not Burma, he said.

The Kokang region has hosted several such ceremonies in the past decade, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported today.

The drugs destroyed last week were seized after the Kokang offensive, which forced some 37,000 civilians into China.

The fighting erupted following the Kokang group's rejection of the Burmese government's proposal that it transform into a border guard force.

While many of Burma's ethnic armies sustain themselves through the drugs trade, Lintner said that the government were reacting to the group's border guard rejection by tarnishing their image as 'drug traffickers'.

"If you are on [the government's] side, then you're clean, and if you're against them, you're a drug trafficker", he said. The prodigious growth in consumption of methamphetamine across Southeast Asia has bucked global trends of a downturn in narcotics output.

Despite this, the New Light of Myanmar claimed that "we can say the effort to eliminate narcotic drugs has gained momentum".

The article said that the Burmese government is more than halfway through a "15 year drug elimination program", despite many critics of the junta accusing it of turning a blind eye to drug trafficking and production, and even colluding with producers.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin

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