Methamphetamine use 'rapidly' rising in Burma

Nov 27, 2009 (DVB), Figures released by the United Nations' drugs agency show that use of methamphetamine in Burma is on the rise, and is having an increasingly detrimental effect on neighbouring countries.

A report released yesterday by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) shows that use of 'amphetamine type substances' (ATS), more commonly known in the region as 'yaba' (which means literally 'crazy drug') is catching up with Burma's other 'favourite', heroin, which has been steadily decreasing in production.

The report also highlights "interdependence" between regional nations in Southeast Asia's drugs problem, highlighting how Burma's manufacturing of narcotics increasingly has an impact on her neighbours.

The report urges "the continued need for joint efforts, both at the national and regional levels".

The consequence of the boom in Burmese-produced narcotics has over the last decade led to costly policing measures in many regional countries, and the report suggests that drug peddlers and traffickers are increasingly looking to the potential of markets to the West, such as India and Bangladesh.

According a press release accompanying the report, the "discovery of 'meth' manufacturing facilities in recent years in South Asia may indicate the intent by organized crime groups to base their manufacturing and trafficking operations in the region."

Sections of the report were however dismissed by author and Burma drugs expert, Bertil Lintner, who said that it was "nonsense to claim that heroin production in Burma is down; it is stable".

Lintner goes on to point out that the statistics used by the UNODC are supplied by governments. In the case of Burma, he states that the ceasefire groups and ethnic armies are called 'drug dealers' only when at war with the junta, but are allowed to operate freely when allied.

"When the Kokang [rebel group] didn't want to become border guards, the government immediately accused them of being drug traffickers," he said.

As a result the report notes that "the changing political situation in Myanmar [Burma] in 2009 might serve as a push factor for illicit drugs and relocation of clandestine manufacturing sites across its borders".

Some note that a need by ceasefire groups to purchase arms, given the junta's demand that ethnic armies become border guards, has and will increase production of drugs.

These fears highlight a widely held belief that the Burmese junta is, if not complicit in the drug trade, at least turning a blind eye to it.

The country is reputed to be the second largest producer of heroin globally, and the world's largest exporter of methamphetamine; facts that have confounded prosecutors and the legal establishment in neighbouring Thailand.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin

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