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Burma opium cultivation up, but yield down

Dec 14, 2009 (DVB), Opium cultivation in Burma has doubled since 2006, despite production of the narcotic falling, the United Nations drugs office has said.

"The trend is going in the wrong direction," said Antonio Maria Costa, chief of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), ahead of the presentation of the UNODC’s latest survey on Opium Poppy Cultivation in Southeast Asia. It is the third year running that cultivation has risen.

A UNODC press release added that it was "a troubling increase in opium cultivation in Myanmar [Burma] despite the considerable efforts made by countries of the region and their international partners".

But the organisation's claim that yields and production had fallen 20 percent despite the rise in cultivation was "nothing mysterious", according to Gary Lewis, a representative at UNODC Southeast Asia.

"The number of kilos per hectare, is down due to various climactic factors, but the important thing is that we worry about cultivation because that represents intent to grow the drug," he told DVB.

Earlier UN statistics about a drop in production of opium were dismissed by regional drugs expert Bertil Lintner. "It is nonsense to claim that heroin production in Burma is down; it is stable," he said. He added that UNODC figures were "just a compilation of totally unreliable statistics provided by corrupt governments."

The UNODC does not have the capability to collect their own statistics or report on "the political side of the trade, what makes it possible: official complicity, corruption, and political expedience," he said.

Reacting to accusations leveled by Lintner that UNODC statistics were provided by the government and therefore subjected to bias, Lewis said: "It's done in partnership, as we do it Afghanistan and as we do it in Laos. We have helicopter surveys combined with ground surveillance".

The Burmese government has been accused by drugs experts of not accounting for drug production by allied armed groups, therefore skewing statistics and observations by the UNODC.

He continued however that "in places where there are questions about the legitimacy of governance [and] where there is a great deal of remoteness for the citizens, that's a fairly lethal combination". He also noted that corruption "happens in every country".

He also claimed that the UNODC had no evidence that armed groups allied with the Burmese junta were allowed to produce drugs; something that Lintner had referred to as "official complicity" by the Burmese government in the country's drugs trade.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin


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