Opium abuse 'devastating' Shan communities

Jan 26, 2010 (DVB), Palaung communities in northeastern Burma are being "devastated" by opium addiction, with mothers and wives forced to carry the weight of growing abuse among men, a report says.

'Poisoned Flowers', released yesterday by the Palaung Women's Organisation (PWO), features interviews with 88 women in ethnic Palaung communities in Shan state. The conflict-torn northeastern region of Burma's supplies 95 percent of the country's opium output.

In one instance, a mother told the PWO that her daughter had been trafficked for money by her opium-addicted father, while others had lost up to eight children due to disease. Another woman said that her husband's inability to look after their child while she worked the farmland resulted in its death.

"The increased addiction rates have resulted from the regime allowing drug lords to expand production into Palaung areas in recent years, in exchange for policing against resistance activity and sharing drug profits," it said.

"The collapse of markets for tea and other crops has driven more and more farmers to turn to opium growing or to work as labourers in opium fields, where wages are frequently paid in opium."

It also said that prior to 1962, the year the military seized power in Burma, Palaung communities had rarely grown opium, instead relying on sales of tea. Opium farming grew steadily in the ensuing three decades, and then ballooned in 1991 after the government acquiesced in production by Shan ceasefire groups.

Now some 4,500 hectares of land in Shan state are used for opium harvesting; a five-fold increase from 2006.

"More of the regime’s troops and militias are everywhere. For us this has meant more drugs and more addiction," Lway Nway Hnoung, the main researcher of the report, told Reuters.

The Burmese government has intensified its troop presence in Shan state since fighting erupted last year between the army and an ethnic Kokang rebel group. The multi-billion dollar Shwe gas pipeline will also run through Shan state and across the border into China, with thousands of troops set to be deployed along its route.

"The drug problem in Burma is worsening and has become a threat to stability and peace in the region," wrote Malaysian MP Teresa Kok and Philippine congresswoman Loretta Ann P Rosales in their foreword to the PWO report. "The need for the UN Security Council to take immediate and appropriate action to address this is apparent."

Reporting by Francis Wade

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