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AP-Myanmar Makes Opium Predictions

Thursday February 25 1:34 PM ET

Myanmar Makes Opium Predictions
By GRANT PECK Associated Press Writer

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) - After a ceremony in which more than $200 million in
illegal drugs was burned, Myanmar's top anti-narcotics officer pledged
Thursday that his country's opium production will drop 50 percent this year
because of government eradication efforts.

However, official statistics show that such a drop would follow a
record-high 1997-98 crop.

Col. Kyaw Thein, ending an international heroin conference organized by
Interpol, told reporters that the figures could not be interpreted as higher
than in previous years, since improved statistical methods were introduced
last year.

The government's Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control data show that
during that season, 733 tons of opium were produced in Myanmar. The second
most plentiful crop in the last 10 years was 385 tons in 1990-91, according
to the statistics.

The United States and several European countries are boycotting the
conference because they disapprove of the military regime's human rights
record and its failure to turn power over to a democratically elected

U.S. and other drug experts say Myanmar, also called Burma, is one of the
world's largest opium producers. Myanmar also is believed to be the world's
largest exporter of heroin, which is derived from opium.

Kyaw Thein said the areas planted with opium had been reduced by at least
49,000 acres from about 150,000 acres in the 1997-98 planting season.

A lack of rain, and what he called successful efforts to persuade farmers to
grow other crops, should cause a large drop in production this year, he

The government has a 15-year program to eliminate all opium production by
the year 2014.

Kyaw Thein spoke after a ceremony at which officials burned 8,870 pounds of
opium, 950 pounds of heroin, 355 pounds of marijuana, more than 15 million
stimulant tablets - mostly methamphetamine.

A government spokesman estimated the local wholesale value of the opium at
$48 million, the heroin at $52 million, seized morphine - also derived from

opium - at $34 million and the stimulants at $67 million.

The United States and Britain accuse Myanmar of being soft on drugs because
it has failed to prosecute former traffickers and allegedly allowed them to
invest their ill-gotten gains.

Kyaw Thein said his nation's approach was the most efficient and practical
one for ending the drug trade and pacifying borders areas which had been
under the drug lords' control.

However, Kyaw Thein noted that some farmers who had joined crop substitution
programs were hurt by a lack of rain.

``The yield was not to our expectations. It will cause some hardships to the
farmers,'' he said.