Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Burma deconstructed! Opium and repression

Demonstrations 2007 against the Burmese junta

Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese pro-democracy leader,
will be released from house arrest in November, a
government minister has told a gathering of local
officials, according to two people who attended the
meeting. The information could not be verified
independently but three people who attended the meeting
said the comment was made to an audience of several
hundred people in Kyaukpadaung, a town about 565 km
(350 miles) north of the former capital, Yangon. The
three witnesses requested anonymity.

Suu Kyi, detained for 14 of the past 20 years, was
sentenced to a further 18 months of detention last
August for harboring an American who swam uninvited to
her lakeside home. That incident took place in
May 2009, just before an earlier period of house arrest
was due to end. Taking into account the three months
she spent in a prison guesthouse after the incident,
her 18-month sentence would end in November.

Planned election would be the first since 1990, when
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party
scored a landslide victory that the country's junta
refused to recognize.

Jailed opponents

Maung Oo also said detained NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo
would be released on February 13, and that the
government would pursue an international-style market
economy after holding "free and fair" elections,
including loosening restrictions on car imports. Tin
Oo, 82, a former defense minister and retired general,
has been in prison or under house arrest for more than
a decade.

A nightmare for Burmese monks and population, Asian
Gazette already reported about the situation of Burmese
refugees who escaped from Burma after demonstrations
mid- 2007 to neighboring countries.

Here is a report about the opium traffic from the
Irrawaddy newspaper

"Opium Addiction 'Poisoning' Palaung, Says Report"

Increased opium cultivation in ethnic Palaung areas of
northern Shan State is creating widespread addiction
and poisoning Palaung youths, according to a new report
by the Palaung Women's Organization (PWO). The report
titled “Poisoned Hills,” which was released on Tuesday,
said that opium fields are flourishing not only in
“insurgent and cease-fire areas,” as claimed by the UN,
but also in Burmese government-controlled areas.

The Palaung researchers said they conducted field
surveys in Namkham and Mantong townships in the Palaung
region between 2007 and 2009, and found that the total
area of cultivated opium had increased up to fivefold
over three years—from 963 hectares in 2006-07 to 4,545
hectares in 2008-09. Lway Nway Hnoung, one of the
researchers on the report, said she collected
information by conducting interviews with local
villagers, village heads, drug addicts and relatives of
drug addicts from about 100 villages in the region.
Several housewives said that drug addiction often led
to stealing and domestic violence within families and
that the youths in the region often lost interest in
studying, she said.

According to local villagers who were interviewed, the
widespread availability of the drug was responsible for
more and more men and boys becoming addicts. “The only
men who aren't using drugs are the monks who stay in
the monasteries,” one Palaung woman reportedly said.
In a village surveyed in Mantong, it was found that
that the percentage of men aged 15 and older who were
addicted to opium had increased from 57 percent in 2007
to 85 percent in 2009, according to the report.

The PWO report said that drug addicts “flock openly to
drug camps” in Namkham where dealers sell heroin and
amphetamines from their houses. Namkham and Mantong
are under the control of the Burmese government forces,
although they were previously administered by the
Palaung State Liberation Army until it surrendered to
the Burmese armed forces in 2005. The report said that
local Burmese authorities—the army, police and
pro-junta militia—were involved in the drug trade.
Police have reportedly formed "anti-drug teams" in the
regions. However, instead of eradicating poppy fields,
they are extorting large sums from local farmers and
then letting them grow the crop, the report said,
adding that during 2007 and 2008, in Mantong, at least
37 million kyat (US $37,000) in bribes was collected
from 28 villages. The report emphasized that “a
negotiated resolution to the political issues at the
root of Burma’s civil war and political reform are
needed to address the drug issue” which is impacting
the region.

“As long as this regime remains in power, drugs will
continue to poison people in Burma and the region,”
said Lway Nway Hnoung. According to the 2009 annual
survey of poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia by the
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the
total area under opium poppy cultivation in Burma in
2008 was estimated at 28,500 hectares, representing an
increase of 3 percent from the 27,700 hectares under
cultivation in 2007. The largest region for opium
cultivation was Shan State, the UNODC survey said,
where 89 percent of the total opium poppy in Burma was
grown. Southern and eastern Shan states accounted for
53.7 percent and 33 percent respectively. Northern
Shan State remained low with a cultivation area
representing only 3 percent of national cultivation,
even though it had increased by 105 percent from 2007
and by 233 percent from 2006. Neighboring Kachin and
Karenni states remained with low levels of
cultivation—5 percent and 6 percent respectively in
2008, according to the UNODC.
Newspaper sources

UNODC Report on narcotics in Burma:

Opium cultivation in South East-Asia remains relatively
limited. Just under 34,000 hectares of opium was grown
in the region in 2009, a quarter of the amount grown in
Afghanistan. Worrisome is the situation in Myanmar
where cultivation is up for the third year in a row –
an 11% increase from 28,500 ha in 2008 to 31,700 ha in
2009. Most of this increase came in the Shan State
where 95% of Myanmar’s poppy is grown. More than a
million people (most of them in the Shan state) are now
involved in opium cultivation in Myanmar, an increase
of more than a quarter over 2008.

However, the overall value of the crop is falling since
yields were down 28% to 10.4 kg per hectare, production
fell 20% (to 330 metric tons), and prices are more or
less stable (at just over US$ 300/kg). In total, the
potential value of opium production in Myanmar fell by
15% from US$ 123 million in 2008 to US$ 104 million in
2009. Increased instability in north-eastern Myanmar
(where most of the opium is grown) seems to be
affecting the opium market. There are indications that
ceasefire groups – autonomous ethnic militias like the
Wa and Kachin – are selling drugs to buy weapons, and
moving stocks to avoid detection.

While South-East Asia’s once notorious opium problem
has been contained, there are worrying signs that the
situation in Myanmar is starting to unravel.
Governments and donors need to stay the course and
ensure sufficient duration of commitment and funding
for all aspects of the drug issue : security,
development, and health. In Lao PDR, cultivation was
up 19%, although the overall total is low at 1,900 ha,
as is the yield at 6 kg/ha. Nevertheless, with a kilo
of opium fetching US$ 1,327 per kilogram (due to stable
demand and scarce supply), this illicit crop remains
attractive to farmers, especially as the prices of
other locally produced commodities are falling. This
Report features a chapter on what is being done to
promote development in the remote northern province of
Phongsali, Lao PDR.

In order to consolidate recent gains, the country in
general needs more development assistance particularly
for remote communities, and greater access to drug
treatment. It also deserves support for the
implementation of its National Drug Control Master Plan
(2009-2013). While focusing on the opium problem
(mostly in rural communities), we should not lose sight
of rapidly increasing production and use of synthetic
drugs (mostly in cities) in the Greater Mekong region.
It would be a Pyrrhic victory for drug control if
South-East Asia’s appetite for opium was simply
replaced by a new craving for ampethamine-type

Opium Poppy Cultivation in South-East Asia
Source : United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control. Lao National
Commission for Drug Control and Supervision
Date : 14-Dec-2009

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