Regional Links Aiding Drug Syndicates in Burma: UNODC

By Andrew D. Kaspar 20 August 2014

RANGOON — Regional integration offers greater opportunities to narcotics producers and traffickers in Burma, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said on Wednesday, at a time when Asia’s demand for methamphetamines shows signs of accelerating.

The warning represents a darker take on a regional push to better connect infrastructure and economies, and facilitate the trans-border movement of people. That integration is typified by efforts to create an Asean Economic Community by 2015 and extends to projects aimed at better linking Burma to its giant Asian neighbors China and India.

“Organized crime groups are well positioned to take advantage of regional integration agreements to expand the trafficking of synthetic drugs and precursor chemicals” said Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC’s regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, according to a statement.

“Capacities to ensure the rule of law vary greatly across the region, and this evolving and growing threat diverts increasing amounts of scarce state resources away from efforts to develop and improve governance,” he added, ahead of a regional anti-narcotics conference that began on Wednesday in Rangoon.

Citing “significant volumes” of drug seizures made in neighboring nations and traced to Burma, the UNODC said the country remains a major source of methamphetamine pills, known locally as yaba, and crystal methamphetamine. The country is Southeast Asia’s largest producer of synthetic drugs, with smugglers transporting precursor chemicals into Burma and shipping the finished products out, taking advantage of the country’s porous borders.

“While most of the methamphetamine produced in East and Southeast Asia is consumed within the region, large quantities are also being trafficked to nearby major markets like Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and more recently to neighboring South Asia,” the UNODC said, adding that transnational criminal syndicates were diversifying their trafficking routes and methods of drug production.

A top Burmese anti-narcotics official on Wednesday called for greater cooperation among regional governments to combat the problem.

“No country can tackle these challenges alone, and there is no doubt we need improved training and support for frontline law enforcement and justice officers, especially along the Mekong corridor and in remote areas of the region,” said Police Lt-Gen Kyaw Win of the Ministry of Home Affairs’ Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control.

Earlier this week, the UNODC warned that the narcotics trade endangered Burma’s reform program and put fragile peace negotiations with ethnic armed rebel groups in border regions at risk.

“Criminal activity in Myanmar is undermining development efforts, increasing human insecurity and threatening the peace process,” the UNODC’s Douglas said on Monday.

That warning came as the UNODC signed a 2014-17 country program with Burma’s government, focusing on five broad areas of concern: transnational organized crime; anti-corruption; criminal justice; drugs and health; and alternative development for opium poppy farmers.

In addition to the methamphetamine woes highlighted by the UNODC on Wednesday, Burma is the world’s second largest producer of opium, the precursor to heroin.

Eastern Burma is part of the so-called “Golden Triangle,” along with Thailand and Laos. The mountainous hinterlands—and in particular Shan State—have for decades been home to the region’s most intensive opium cultivation.