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Burma joins fight against drugs

Burma is now one of the most committed states in the fight against drugs, according to the head of the United Nations Drugs Control Programme ( UNDCP ) in Bangkok.

It even contributes financially, says Dr Sandro Calvani. For years the international community blamed the Burmese military regime for the spiralling traffic of illicit drugs out of the Golden Triangle – the border area of Thailand, Burma and Laos.

Burma now says it is cracking down. “On drugs we have nothing to hide,” says an internal government document.

The number of seizures of illicit drugs more than doubled in 2001. There has also been an increase in arrests of traffickers – in China, Thailand and Burma. “Co-operation between Burma, China, Laos and Thailand has been very effective,” the Thai Foreign Minister Surakiat Sathirathai tells the BBC.

“The exchange of information and intelligence between the four countries has led to the seizure of millions of metamphetamines in Burma, China, Laos and Thailand.” Drugs production While now all the countries of the region may be committed to the eradication of the drugs trade, it is not before time. It also comes as there are increasing fears that the production of illicit drugs from the Golden Triangle is set to increase. With the opium production virtually at an end in Afghanistan, there are fears that production in Burma may increase to replace that supplied by Afghanistan.

In the past few years, Burma’s opium production has fallen. But in the meantime the manufacture of synthetic drugs like methamphetamines has risen dramatically. From 100 million tablets two years ago to 800 million now – the equivalent of 12 tablets for every man, woman and child in Thailand. Most narcotics experts blame the Wa and Kokang – two ethnic groups with large armed forces which have signed ceasefire agreements with the Burmese military regime – for much of the mass production of amphetamines. As a result of joint Thai and Burmese pressure, the Wa leaders have promised to make their region drug-free by 2005. The Thai and Burmese governments are convinced that the Wa are sincere, and so is the UN.

“The Wa have honoured every agreement they have ever made,” says Dr Calvoni. Village plan So confident is everyone, that the Thais have offered the Burmese and Wa $2m to help fund a crop-substitution programme there. The initial part of this project will involve establish a pilot scheme along the lines of the Thai model of “Drug-Free Villages”, which proved very successful in northern Thailand.

A senior Thai military commander in the region, says it took 30 years to work there, but is optimistic about the Burma programme. “I think it will be even faster in Burma, and could take only 10 years before all the farmers are won over,” he says.

The Thais will also provide non-monetary support, like training, computers for data collection, technical support and marketing advice for the sale of substitute products.

Burmese drug officials concede the real problem is now in the Kokang areas. “The Kokang are already producing more amphetamines than the Wa,” says a senior Burmese anti-drug police commander.

UN officials also say that the Kokang are totally out of control.

Chinese help But senior Burmese anti-narcotics agents are confident they can bring the Kokang under control.

“We are going to do that with the help of our Chinese counterparts,” says Major General Soe Win, the Director General of the Burmese Police Force. “We have stepped up our operations against them, and with close co-operation with the Chinese authorities we have begun to have an impact.” Over the past year or so Burmese and Chinese officials have stepped up the exchange of intelligence on locating the routes and identifying the drug barons. As a result there has been an increase in seizures and arrests. The Chinese are also helping train Burma’s anti-narcotics agents. Twelve officers are off to Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province in two month’s time for a six-week intensive course. The Chinese have also agreed in principle to help fund crop-substitution programmes in Kokang areas, along the lines of the Thai projects in the Wa region. “So far its only promises,” says Major General Soe Win.

BBC News, 19 Jan 2002

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