Dec 15, 2009 (DVB), The Burmese junta is covering up its role in the country's drugs trade by labeling adversarial armed groups as Burma's sole drugs producers, an ethnic coalition group has said.
The comments, issued by the National Democratic Front (NDF), which represents nine ethnic parties, follow in the wake of a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report that claims opium cultivation in Burma had doubled since 2006.
It said that armed ethnic groups are using the proceeds from the drugs trade to secure weapons. Gary Lewis, the UNODC's Southeast Asia representative, told DVB yesterday that information in the report was collected "in partnership" with the Burmese government.
The report however fails to pay adequate attention to the role the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) plays in the country's drugs trade, the NDF said.
"The UNODC should investigate the involvement of the SPDC military leaders in drug trafficking, on a large scale, in collusion with the SPDC proxy armies in some ethnic areas," an NDF statement said.
It said that accusations were being targeted at groups that had refused to transform into border guard forces (BGF) and thus subordinate themselves to the Burmese army.
It "is a move by [the government] to cover up its own involvement in drug business and to get international assistance to militarily suppress the armed ethnic organizations that do not accept its BGF plan," the NDF said.
Members of the coalition include Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and the Karen National Union (KNU), Burma's most prominent armed opposition group.
According to the UNODC, around one million people in Burma are thought to be involved in the production of opium, which despite a surge in cultivation, has reportedly decreased since 2006.
Burma is the world's second largest heroin producer, and now a leading source of methamphetamine in Southeast Asia.
The key source region for opium, Shan state, is also one of the country's most volatile states. The 30,000-strong United Wa State Army (UWSA), which holds a tenuous ceasefire agreement with the government, controls much of the region, and is also believed to play a principal role in the drugs trade.
The NDF statement said however that "it is impossible" to produce drugs in Burma's border regions without complicity from the SPDC.
Fighting erupted in Shan state in August this year after the Burmese army launched an offensive against a Kokang rebel group that had resisted pressure to transform into a border guard force.
Shortly after fighting ceased, state media in Burma announced the discovery of a horde of methamphetamine pills in a Kokang village, which were subsequently destroyed in a high-profiel ceremony reported in the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
Then in November, the newspaper claimed that the Kokang offensive did not result from the group's resistance to border guard transformation but from "manufacturing illegal arms and ammunition and trafficking narcotic drugs on a large scale".
Reporting by Francis Wade