YANGON - The UN on Monday warned that widespread criminal activity in Myanmar was undermining stability and development, as it hailed a new partnership with the government to tackle "significant" crime and drug problems in the impoverished country.
Myanmar -- the world's second largest opium producer after Afghanistan and Southeast Asia's biggest synthetic drug maker -- has signed a "landmark" agreement to work with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) at it grapples with narcotics and illicit trafficking.
"Criminal activity in Myanmar is undermining development efforts, increasing human insecurity and threatening the peace process," said UNODC regional representative Jeremy Douglas, according to a statement.
Myanmar was under outright military rule for decades until a quasi-civilian regime took power in 2011, ushering in broad reforms that have seen the former pariah state lauded by the international community and attracted a flood of foreign investment as most Western sanctions were dismantled.
But the country's remote war-torn borders with Thailand and Laos -- the so-called Golden Triangle -- and frontiers with China and India still provide a network of smuggling routes for everything from drugs to illicit wildlife, timber and human trafficking.
"The significant financial proceeds generated by different forms of trafficking in Myanmar are laundered and distort the legitimate economy, corrupt public officials, and undermine stability," the UNODC said in a statement.
The UNODC's country programme agreement with Myanmar, which will last until 2017, covers a variety of areas, including transnational organised crime, anti-corruption, criminal justice, and providing alternative development for opium poppy farmers.
Myanmar's opium production soared to its highest level in more than a decade in 2013, producing an estimated 870 tonnes, UNODC said in December.
The figure was driven both by higher yields and a larger area under cultivation in eastern regions of Myanmar, where ethnic minority rebels have battled government troops for years and political changes have yet to translate into tangible economic benefits for impoverished communities.
Myanmar has also seen a steep rise in the production of methamphetamines, using precursor chemicals smuggled into the country across porous borders.
In June, Myanmar burnt around $130 million of seized drugs, including some 1.3 tonnes of opium, 225 kilograms (500 pounds) of heroin and 1.2 tonnes of methamphetamine tablets to mark World Drugs Day.
Authorities last week said they had seized $7.3 million of drugs buried in a forest in the Golden Triangle region.
As part of efforts to tackle major crime, Myanmar state media on Monday said the government had formed an anti-money laundering board.