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Junta jilted on Interpol drug forum
By PETER ALFORD in Bangkok
Australian News Network

THE staging in Rangoon of an international police conference on heroin
production and trafficking has split foreign opponents of the Burmese regime
and threatens to embarrass some of its most severe critics, including US
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. 

To the outrage of Burmese opposition groups, Interpol's Fourth International
Heroin Conference is being hosted and co-organised by a regime Dr Albright
and British Foreign Minister Robin Cook have accused of "conniving" with
drug lords. 

Three officers from the Australian Federal Police and Customs Service will
attend the conference starting on February 23 but Britain, Denmark, The
Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg will boycott, while Germany has yet to
take a position. 

The European Union, which alongside the US runs the toughest sanctions
campaigns against the State Peace and Development Council regime and refuses
visas to Burmese ministers, officials and military officers, is split wide

France, home of the Interpol secretariat, and Italy will attend as will
China and Thailand, neighbours that are severely troubled by the Burmese
drug problem. 

Thailand's Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan has recently praised Rangoon's
attempts to curb its huge drug trade. 

It is understood Drug Enforcement Officers stationed in Rangoon will
represent the US, despite what one expert described as "the State
Department-CIA narco-State theory" about Burma's leadership. 

The Central Intelligence Agency claims Burma is the world's biggest producer
of illicit opium and one of the largest heroin exporters. 

The latest CIA World Factbook says the country produced 2.36 tonnes of opium
in 1997, although that was an 8 per cent drop on the previous year. Burma
recently has emerged as major source of amphetamines trafficked into
bordering countries. 

The George Soros-funded Open Society Institute demanded in a recent letter
to US Attorney-General Janet Reno that US officers withdraw from the
conference, likening it to "holding a convention on weapons of mass
destruction in Baghdad (or) on women's rights in Kabul". 

But international relations experts say the State Peace and Development
Council Government will use the conference to boost its claims to be

innocent of drug trade links and to bolster its much publicised recent
crackdown on heroin and amphetamines. 

Burma's military and police authorities claim last year to have seized 403kg
of heroin, almost 5400kg of opium, 380kg of marijuana and 16 million speed
tablets. Already this year they have announced several big heroin and
amphetamine busts. 

Although anti-SPDC and Burmese exile groups insist that the impunity
afforded to people like the now-ailing Khun Sa, formerly a world-scale
trafficker, shows the regime's complicity, there is a spreading rejection of
the view that the regime deliberately fosters drug trafficking. 

Foreign Affairs Burma-watchers in Canberra say people corrupted by the drug
trade remain at senior levels of the regime and the military apparatus, but
discount the likelihood of the Government as a whole being involved. 

Bangkok-based AFP liaison officer Kevin McTavish, who will attend the
Rangoon conference, told The Weekend Australian yesterday his delegation's
concern was with gathering new information on the heroin trade to stem its
effects on Australia ­ not the politics of the venue. 

"I don't think this is a problem for Interpol, although I can see there are
political implications for some of the countries that are not sending
delegates," Mr McTavish said. 

"The purpose for us is to get a feel for what's happening in the region with
the growing of opium and the trafficking of heroin."