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Myanmar's drug menace worries U.S.
The Hindu: Myanmar's drug menace worries US
By V. Jayanth
Singapore, Nov. 25: With the international focus now turned on democracy
and human rights in Myanmar, the anti-drug enforcement authorities of the
US have voiced concern at their inability to contain the drug menace from
The American officials, who were on a visit to neighbor Thailand,
reviewed the drugs and narcotics trade in the region, with a special
focus on the Golden Triangle. They estimated that Myanmar accounted for
almost 60 per cent of the heroin production in the world today, with
current estimates suggesting that the country contributed about 230 tones
of the drug, mostly for the world market.
Till pro-democracy uprising, the US was funding a programme to wipe out
opium cultivation in Myanmar and hoping not only to stop production of
heroin, but step up regional surveillance to put an end to trafficking.
But when the military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council
(SLORC) took over the administration in Myanmar, the US cut off all
assistance and aid. It only maintains a diplomatic mission but not have
an Ambassador-- only a Charge D' Affaires.
Washington has been pressuring Bangkok to step up its vigilance and
ensure that its armed forces do not connive with the warlords in its
borders with Myanmar and Laos to pave the way for a flourishing trade in
drugs and narcotics. Under this pressure, Thailand has apparently acted
to contain the problem and moved legally to deport at least a couple of
persons wanted by American courts for drug trafficking.
The US wants Myanmar to crackdown on drugs and also weed out the
cultivation of opium, particularly in its north and northeastern regions.
But the SLORC has taken cover under the pretext that tribal and regional
insurgent groups controlled those areas and the Government was involved
both in a process of reconciliation and military action.
Earlier this year, when Khun Sa, a leading warlord and drug trader,
called for truce and most of his cadres surrendered to the military
authorities, there was a renewed pressure on Myanmar to take control of
the region and stop drug trafficking. Despite initial reports that Khun
Sa would be brought to trail in Yangon to face domestic charges, no such
development has taken place. Thai authorities say that the once feared
drug lord is now enjoying a retired life and the bulk of opium production
and trafficking has now passed on to the control of a rival group that
did not endorse the surrender or reconciliation.
The visiting American officials gave a clean chit to Thailand for its
concerted attempted to stamp out trafficking through its borders and said
there was no information now of drug lords holed up in the jungles of
Thailand. But they said Bangkok, as the gateway to and for Indochina, had
a continuing responsibility to keep a vigil and put down trafficking.
Though most of the Southeast Asian countries enacted tough laws awarding
death penalty for drug traffickers and those found in possession of
certain quantities ( outside medically prescribed limits for some
ailments), the US maintain that most of the supply to North America came
from this part of the world and that too from the Indochina region.
The US works closely with both Thailand and Cambodia, but has no say in
Myanmar because of the strained relationship for some years now. The
military authorities have taken sporadic action and even last week,
claimed to have carried out the largest ever seizure of amphebetine
tablets-- over 4.5 million of them were seized in a raid near the Thai
Officials in Yangon say in the absence of international aid and
assistance, the Slorc has been waging a lone battle not only against
drugs and the remaining insurgent groups, but also working for the
development of the country and its integration of southeast Asia. Because
of the resource constraints, it could not go beyond what it was already
This seems to be the new dilemma of the American agencies involved in
evolving a policy on Myanmar-- should they stop for the present with a
campaign for the restoration of democracy and an end to human rights
violation, or also step up efforts to fight against drugs and trafficking?
Authorities here say in addition to the Indochina region, Indonesia has
emerged as a major drug centre and the new, designer drugs like the
fantasy pills were transiting through South East Asia countries from
Europe to Indonesia. Many of these carriers were caught and huge volumes
of the pill are being seized from air passengers and unclaimed cargo/parcels.