Junta rely on drug money to stay in power

Apr 10, 2009 (DVB), Profits from Burma's opium trade are working their way into the pockets of local government authorities, claims a report which found an increase in poppy cultivation last year across Burma's northeastern Shan state.

Increased numbers of poppy farms and comparatively healthy crops occurred throughout Shan state last year, resulting in a 15 per cent drop in the price of opium, said the Lahu National Development Organisation.

The report discovered that village authorities and militia heads continue to collect a tax from opium farmers, suggesting that capital from the opium trade is reaching local, if not senior, government.

"Each house had to pay two tical (32.66 grams) of opium to a local authority," said the report.

"Depending on the area, this could be a militia chief, a village headman, or a "middle-man", all of whom then pass the tax to a local Burma Army battalion or township authority."

The pro-government armed group United Wa State Army control the majority of the opium trade in Shan state, placing restrictions on who traffickers can sell the drug to.

The report said no progress had been seen in the fight against the opium trade because of the government's hand in it.

"The ruling military clique has been relying on drug money to run businesses and stay in power," it said.

It added that the government's claims of success in eradicating poppy cultivation were in order to receive international assistance.

Burma is second to Afghanistan in global opium production according to the United States.

Reporting by Francis Wade

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