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Opium cultivation in Burma surges

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Despite the Burmese military junta’s claims of successfully reducing drug cultivation in Burma, opium poppy cultivation in northern Shan state has sharply risen over the past two years, estimates a report by a Burmese ethnic women’s group.

‘Poisoned Hills’, a new report released on Tuesday by the Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO), reveals that opium cultivation in Nam Hkam and Mantong Townships in northern Shan state increased nearly five-fold from 2006 to 2009, to almost 4,500 hectares.

The estimate differs significantly from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) judgment, which calculated the area of cultivation at 1,600 hectares in 23 townships in Shan state during 2008-09. 

Lway Moe Kham, secretary of PWO, on Tuesday told Mizzima that the UNODC’s estimates of areas of opium poppy cultivation is based on false data provided by an anti-drug team formed of Burmese police in Nam Hkam and Mantong.

The group alleges that the anti-drug team supplied police headquarters in Naypyidaw with false data, claiming they effectively eradicated the cultivation of poppy opium.  

“They only destroyed about 11 percent of the poppy fields, which is easily visible, in the 2008-09 seasons,” said Lway Moe Kham.

The report, a result of field surveys conducted from 2006 to 2009, also contends the anti-drug team are involved in the cultivation of opium poppy by allowing villagers to grow the product in return for fees. The report documents bribes totaling at least 37 million kyats (US$ 37,000) collected by Mantong Township authorities during the 2007-08 season.

Furthermore, the expansion of local militias by the Burmese regime is also argued to have led to the increase in poppy cultivation in Shan state.

“The regime is allowing drugs to be grown in areas under their control, and allowing authorities to extort from growers and addicts. They are also in the process of expanding militia security units which are known to be involved in drugs,” adds the report.

Lway Nway Hnoung, the principal researcher of the report, in a statement on Tuesday said, "Today more of the regime's troops and militias are everywhere. For us this has meant more drugs and more addiction."

Researchers of the report said community assessments found addiction rates soaring in relevant areas, stipulating that in one village surveyed in Mantong Township, 85 percent of males over the age of 15 were addicted to either opium or heroin.

"In our area, if we don't marry a drug addict, we have no one to get married to because everyone is a drug addict. The only men who aren't using drugs are the monks who stay in the monastery," a woman interviewed for the report lamented.

The group said drug eradication cannot be effectively conducted unless there is a negotiated resolution to the political issues at the root of Burma's civil war and political reforms to address the drug issue.

"As long as this regime remains in power, drugs will continue to poison people in Burma and the region," said Lway Nway Hnoung.

Editing by Mungpi

Last Updated ( Monday, 05 April 2010 17:01 )  

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