27 June 2014
A Myanmar government ‘drug burning’ ceremony in 2014 (Alex Bookbinder).
For many years, Burma has celebrated the UN’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking with fiery abandon, marking the occasion with drug-burning ceremonies intended to show how serious the government is about tackling the trade. However the 2014 edition of the World Drug Report, issued annually by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), paints a mixed picture of Burma’s drug eradication efforts.
At an event marking the report’s launch in Rangoon on Thursday afternoon, Jeremy Douglas, UNODC’s representative for Southeast Asia, noted that Burmese opiates and stimulant production have both increased significantly in recent years.
While Burma lost the title of the world’s largest opium producer to Afghanistan in the early 1990s, the country still accounts for a substantial portion of global supply, the report says, a share that has been rising steadily for almost ten years. “It’s an increasing percentage, year on year, for Myanmar. In 2005, which was the low point, [Burma] was roughly five percent of global opium production,” he said. “It is now 18 percent of global opium production.”
Yet enforcement figures do not reflect this spike, Douglas claimed. “In this region, oddly, given that there’s 18 percent of the production of the world taking place, in the golden triangle [there are] relatively low seizures. There may be some explanation for that coming from the government,” he said.
Southeast Asia has witnessed a massive spike in supply and demand for synthetic drugs in recent years, most notably pill-form methamphetamine, or Yaba. “We have seen a seven-fold increase [in Yaba seizures] over the last few years. We are now projecting… the highest [seizure] levels ever recorded. 240-plus-million pills will be reported in the near future as seized in the greater Mekong sub region. The source of those… is the Shan State area.”
Because the raw materials needed to create these synthetic drugs do not originate in Burma, Douglas called for improved “precursor controls” that would limit the ability of criminal syndicates to engage in large-scale production in Burma’s lawless frontier areas. Most precursor chemicals – the ephedrine and pseudoephedrine for methamphetamienes and the ancetic anhyndride used to purify heroin – have historically originated in China, but these have been augmented by increasing shipments from India recently, Douglas claimed.
Two massive pyres – laden with heroin, pharmaceuticals, methamphetamines and other drugs – were set ablaze at a ceremony held in Rangoon’s northern Hlawga township early Thursday morning. Two other events were simultaneously held in Mandalay and Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State.
Commander Khin Maung Thein, of the police’s Anti-Narcotics Taskforce, said that 16 different types of drugs, with a combined street value of 14 million US dollars, were destroyed at the Rangoon event. “All these drugs were seized across Burma – in Rangoon, Pegu, Irrawaddy and Tenasserim divisions, and Mon, Arakan and Karen, and were tested by the Criminal Investigation Department,” he said. The combined value of the drugs destroyed at the three events totalled US$130 million, according to the authorities.
Additional reporting by Paing Soe.