UN reports huge rise in Myanmar opium production

Myanmar drug lords have increased the size of opium fields by 17 per cent in the past year, despite claims by the government of successful drug eradication to meet a goal of an opium-free country, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported Wednesday.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime issues periodic updates of the situation in a number of criminal enterprises.

Myanmar drug gangs will harvest and process 690 tonnes of opium in 2012, the UN report said. That would produce 69 tonnes of heroin, which Myanmar-based drug gangs export to the world, mostly through Thailand and China.

Acreage under opium crops increased from 43,600 hectares last year to 51,000 hectares (318,750 rai, 127,500 acres) at present, according to the survey of opium cultivation in the region.

Gary Lewis, UNODC representative for Southeast Asia, told a press conference that the situation on the ground was "very complex". In areas where opium was grown, there was "a toxic combination of guns, money and drugs", he said.

Production also rose substantially in Laos, from 4,100 hectares to 6,800 hectares - 52,500 rai, 17,000 acres.

In Thailand however, the already minuscule fields of 217 hectares (1,356 rai) were reduced in size by another four per to 1,300 rai.

But Myanmar, the region's largest opium producer and heroin exporter, is the focus of attention and interest of law enforcement and anti-drug advocates.

It was the sixth consecutive year of growth in opium production, the UN agency said - but the first under a government supposedly dedicated to establishing rule of law.

While the country endorsed an elected parliament and instituted democratic reforms, it is clear there is a long way to go before it can wipe out the effects of 50-plus years of harsh military dictatorship.

During that sad period, from 1962-2010, Myanmar became a major drug producer and exporter, including heroin to the world and methamphetamines to Thailand and the region.

The question today is whether there are any relations between drug producers and traffickers, as there apparently were during the years under military control.

Myanmar is the world's second largest producer of opium after Afghanistan, growing and processing 25 per cent of the entire world's crop. But it gets worse.

In 1999, the government set the goal of becoming opium-free by 2014, an outcome that seems unlikely - unless there is a crackdown on drug lords, as well as in the regions of the Shan and Kachin minorities, where most opium is grown, and drug gangs shelter.

The Myanmar government recently claimed that it had eradicated poppies on about 24,000 hectares (150,000 rai) this year.

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