Meth Production in Burma Feeds Into Growing Regional Trade: UN Report

By Simon Lewis 20 May 2014

RANGOON — Burma continues to be a production hub for methamphetamine, which is smuggled from Shan State into neighboring countries and feeds an increasing Asian market for the drug, according to a UN report released Tuesday.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s “2014 Global Synthetic Drugs Assessment—Amphetamine-type Stimulants and New Psychoactive Substances” said the supply of methamphetamine in Asia continues to grow apace, with the quantity of the drug reported seized in the region tripling in the past five years to 36 tons.

The drug—which comes in a crystallized form known as “crystal meth,” or in the pills known in Southeast Asia as “Yaba”—is smuggled around the region by organized criminal gangs, according to UNODC. “The rise in demand in Asian markets for methamphetamines and emerging demand for new psychoactive substances is being met by large production bases in neighbouring China, Myanmar and the Philippines,” a UNODC statement said.

According to Jason Eligh, UNODC country manager for Burma, both forms of methamphetamine are produced in the country, predominantly in Shan State. Large parts of Shan State are controlled by ethnic armed groups or government-linked militias and remain beyond the reach of Burmese law enforcement.

“[Methamphetamine] is produced and trafficked by a number of armed ethnic groups in Shan,” Eligh told The Irrawaddy by email.

The UNODC said in its report that Burma is one of the main destinations in the region for precursor chemicals used to make methamphetamine, which are smuggled overland from China and India.

While only six methamphetamine laboratories were discovered in Burma between 2008 and 2011, many were likely going undetected, it said. “This number is relatively small in view of the fact that there have been reports of sizeable amounts of methamphetamine seized in a number of countries in the region, among them China and Thailand, that originate in Myanmar,” said the report.

“According to expert perception, some methamphetamine originating in Myanmar is intended for the domestic market, but most is intended for trafficking to neighbouring countries,” it said. UN experts believe methamphetamine is trafficked across Shan State’s border with Laos, in the so-called Golden Triangle area, before making its way to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.

“There are indications that large quantities of the substance are also smuggled to China. According to expert perception, a large share of methamphetamine pills seized in China in 2012 originated from Myanmar. Moreover, there have been reports that increasing amounts of methamphetamine originating from Myanmar have been seized in Yunnan province in south-western China along the border to Myanmar.”

Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC’s Tokyo-based regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement that the trafficking of synthetic drugs like methamphetamine had a significant impact on regional police forces, courts, prisons and health care systems.

“This rising threat of synthetic drugs is compounded for Japan and Asia because the production epicenters of amphetamine-type stimulants and new psychoactive substances are nearby. States throughout the region are deeply concerned about illicit drug production, the diversion of the precursor chemicals needed to make methamphetamines and new psychoactive substances, organized crime syndicates, and vulnerable borders,” Douglas said.