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Drug economics in Burma’s new political order

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Seizures mean little

Khun Seng also disputed a statement in the UNODC World Drug Report that attributed the increase in methamphetimine production to ethnic insurgencies in Shan State readying to fight the SPDC by selling more drugs to purchase arms.

“The Kokang and Wa are producing at the normal rate, no more, no less. The increase is due to the involvement of the militia groups, he said. “Now with the Wa and Kokang, these people can produce but they can’t transport without the co-operation of the militia groups. If they do it by themselves they are caught.”

drug-burma3Which explains the number of seized drugs in Burma. UNODC Regional Representative Gary Lewis stated at the release of the 2010 World Drug Report in Bangkok, that 23 million methamphetamine pills were seized in Burma last year, from one million in 2008. Lewis said the numbers likely reflect a surge in production, rather than crime prevention.

Khun Seng agreed that more seizures meant more production, but said that was only part of the picture. The military was particular about where the seizures came from. That is, when the seizures were not fabricated. Militia-produced drugs almost always made it across the border, he said.

The Kokang, a ceasefire group well known for drug production and trafficking along the Sino-Burmese border, were recently attacked by the SPDC for their refusal to join the Border Guard Force and all their drugs were seized. The regime long turned a blind eye to the Kokang’s drug operations and even publicised the area as a “drug-free zone” after its eradication campaign, but in August last year, this all changed and the regime announced a massive seizure of drugs in the Kokang area, while driving more than 37,000 refugees into China.

Several large shipments of methamphetamine, believed to have originated from the United Wa State Army (UWSA), were also recently seized in Tachilek near the Thailand border.

“Seizures are irrelevant and are made only when the authorities want to put pressure on, for instance, the UWSA, for political and security reasons,” Lintner said.

The UWSA, armed with 30,000 soldiers, is the largest ceasefire group to reject the junta’s proposal to become part of the Border Guard Force and the military has turned up the heat as the election approaches. Much of the seized drugs last year are believed to have come from the Kokang and Wa – seizures that would never have happened in the past.

“Proceeds from the drug trade were always a major source of income for several rebel armies in Burma, before and after the ceasefires,” Lintner said. “But the Burmese government and the UNODC chose to turn a blind eye to the traffic as long as the ceasefire groups were on good terms with the government. Now, when some of the ceasefire armies are resisting the government’s demands that they transform their respective armies into Border Guard Forces, they are suddenly being accused of trading in drugs, which they have always done.”

Even with the drastic surge in methamphetamine seizures, the World Drug Report noted that seizures continued to remain very low in Burma. Despite being the second-largest producer of heroin in the world, only one per cent of worldwide heroin interception was seized in Burma in 2008. Similarly, of the 32 million tablets seized in East and Southeast Asia in 2008, only about three per cent, or 1.1 million, were seized in Burma.

The report also states that the number of tablets and the amount precursor chemicals seized in Burma jumped last year, when the SPDC entered by force parts of north and eastern Shan State not under their control.

The new political order

The new drug economy that the SPDC has built in Burma will only worsen as the regime’s crusade for power and control intensifies in the run-up to the election. Lintner anticipates the drug trade will eclipse what was seen in the 1990s.

“In 1990, only opium was produced, and the derivative heroin,” he said. “The production increased dramatically in the 1990s, and now is back to what it was 20 years ago. Plus methamphetamines, which were unknown in the Burmese sector of the Golden Triangle 20 years ago.”

In 1997, then US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright knew all too well where Burma’s drug trade would lead when she aptly stated, “Drug traffickers who once spent their days leading mule trains down jungle tracks are now leading lights in Burma’s new market economy and leading figures in its new political order.”

Last Updated ( Monday, 09 August 2010 13:09 )  

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