Myanmar and Thailand burn $500 million of seized drugs

Myanmar and Thailand burn $500 million of seized drugs
Piles of seized drugs burn after being set on fire during a ceremony to mark the UN's "International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking" in Yangon on June 26, 2014

YANGON - Myanmar and Thailand incinerated some US$400 million (S$500 million)-worth of narcotics Thursday to mark World Drugs Day, but the UN warned opium production was on the rise in the region.

In Myanmar, which has long struggled to control illegal drug production, some 1.3 tons of opium, 225 kilograms (500 pounds) of heroin and 1.2 tons of methamphetamine tablets were destroyed in controlled blazes.

The haul was worth around US$130 million, according to Major Khin Maung Than of Myanmar's anti-narcotics committee, who added that the country's anti-drug campaign was running into problems in some regions that are home to ethic groups where drug production is highest.

"As the government can't reach agreement with some ethnic groups on anti-narcotics work, we can't do the work effectively," he told reporters.

The bulk of the destroyed narcotics were seized in Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State, a province bordering Thailand, which has long been a hotbed of drug production, the proceeds of which may have fuelled conflict between ethnic rebels and Myanmar's army.

Shan State accounts for an estimated 98 per cent of Myanmar's illegal poppy cultivation.

The "Golden Triangle" region, covering parts of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar, was formerly one of the world's top producers of opium and heroin, until the emergence of Afghanistan as a drugs production hub.

Myanmar remains the world's second largest producer of opium - the raw ingredient for heroin - after Afghanistan, accounting for 10 per cent of global production, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

"We haven't finished collecting the data for 2014 yet. But if you look at the last seven years, it's pretty much increasing," said Jason Eligh, UNODC Myanmar country manager.

According to a new UNODC report, nearly 60,000 hectares of land in Myanmar were being used for opium poppy cultivation.

"In 2013, the global production of heroin rebounded to levels last witnessed in 2008 and 2011," it said in the report released Thursday.

Myanmar has extended its main anti-drugs drive for another five years.

In neighbouring Thailand, some 2.5 tons of methamphetamine - known as crystal meth or "ice" - 21 kilos of heroin and 74 kilos of opium worth around US$272 million in total were destroyed in the city of Ayutthaya, according to the kingdom's Public Health Ministry.

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