Recent findings by the UN that production of opium in Burma has increased by 20 percent should prompt the government into taking tougher action against the trade, an MP has said.
As well as a rise in opium, Burmese authorities hauled a record 15.8 tons of methamphetamine pills in 2009, the latest year for available figures, up by more than one third from 2008.
Dr Sai Kyaw Ohn, a parliamentary representative of Shan state’s Namhkam township, labelled it a ‘frontline issue’ for the new government, which has maintained the former junta’s pledge to eliminate Burma’s lucrative drugs industry by 2014. “We will have to discuss in parliament ways to eradicate or cut down [production],” he told DVB.
The government reacted to the UN report in state media by highlighting “concerted efforts” in driving eradication efforts. “Measures are being taken with added momentum to destroy poppy plantations and prevent drug trafficking. In 2010, opium, heroin, opium oil, low-grade opium, marijuana, stimulant pills and various kinds of chemicals were confiscated and legal action was taken against 3465 culprits in 2630 cases,” said an article in the New Light of Myanmar.
Promises of eradication have been met with doubt, however, not least due to evidence of the government’s hand in the trade – a report by the Thailand-based Shan Drug Watch in 2010 claimed that government-backed militias had taken over ethnic armies as Burma’s main drugs’ producers.
Reports emerged last month that army officials were also taking bribes of up to $US90 per acre from farmers in exchange for being allowed to grow poppies for opium. During peak season, a poppy farmer can earn $US12 a day, a huge incentive in a country where average annual wages hover at just over a dollar a day.
Crop substitution has also been an area of concern, with opium production vastly more lucrative, and suited to environmental conditions in the mountainous Shan state where the majority of drugs are growing, than the alternatives offered by the government.
“Business opportunities should be created for civilians, then we should be able to lower [drugs’ production],” said Dr Sai Kyaw Ohn. “But for now, the population in the mountains has nothing else worthwhile to grow.”
US State Department has consistently chastised the government’s anti-drugs efforts, claiming in a report last year that Burma had “failed demonstrably” to eradicate narcotics.
With a decline in Afghanistan’s output, Burma’s share of global opium production has risen from five percent in 2007 to 12 percent last year, the UN report said.