Drug Trade a ‘Significant Threat’ to Region: Mekong Nations

By Saw Yan Naing 10 May 2013

Burma and five other countries of the Mekong subregion have signed an agreement with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to cooperate in the transnational war on drugs, with the signatories calling narcotics a “significant threat” to the region.

The agreement was signed after a meeting in Burma’s capital Naypyidaw on Thursday, which was attended by ministers and representatives from the UNODC, China, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, according to a UNODC statement on Friday.

The drug trade in the region is sourced largely from Burma, especially in eastern Shan State. Ethnic Wa rebels and the United Wa State Army (UWSA), Burma’s largest armed rebel militia, are accused of being the biggest drug producer in Burma.

The statement said that the Memorandum of Understanding, also known as the Naypyidaw Declaration, was signed in the presence of all heads of the delegation on behalf of all representatives by Burma Minister of Home Affairs Lt-Gen Ko Ko and John Sandage, the UNODC’s director of treaty affairs.

“This agreement marks the continued commitment of the six MoU countries—Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam—in supporting drug control in the region, and the celebration of 20 years of partnership and collaboration,” Ko Ko said at the signing ceremony.

“The MoU member states reaffirm our commitment and assure the international community of our efforts to eliminate the drug problem in our region,” he added.

Sandage of the UNODC also urged greater cooperation among the signatories.

“Major challenges persist: The resurgence of opium poppy cultivation, the dramatic spread of amphetamine-type stimulants [ATS], the influx of drugs new to the region and increased levels of addiction,” Sandage said.

“UNODC looks forward to working with the MoU states to implement plans that help us better understand the threat and its challenges, build technical capacity, and lead to greater cooperation across borders and among agencies.”

Sandage said key areas of success in the past 20 years included a reduction of poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia, the establishment of Border Liaison Offices (BLOs), precursor chemical control, computer-based training for front-line officers, and improved understanding of drug use prevention and dependency treatment.

The representatives also called the rapid increase in consumption and production of narcotics a “threat” to Southeast Asia that undermines regional development. They agreed to strengthen cross-border cooperation in law enforcement, reducing demand and alternative development.

The director of Thailand’s Narcotics Law Enforcement Bureau in Bangkok said Burma is the region’s drug production hub and the main producers are ethnic Wa and Kokang armed groups based in Shan State. The director, who asked to be identified only as Siripong, said ethnic Wa and Kokang also operate heroin refineries and methamphetamine laboratories in Shan State.

The UNODC announced in April that organized crime in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes human trafficking, migrant smuggling, and the illicit drug and wildlife trades, is a $90 billion a year business—twice the GDP of Burma.

Of that total, $15 billion worth of methamphetamine within the region is manufactured in eastern and northeastern Burma, the UNODC report said.