RANGOON — The United Nations on Thursday called for tighter law enforcement against drug traffickers in Burma, while affirming its commitment to collaborate with ethnic rebel groups and the government in anti-narcotics operations in opium-rich Shan State.
In a joint press conference with the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in Rangoon on Thursday that it would support relevant authorities to eradicate the drug trade in east Burma.
“There must be sanctions against those who produce illicit drugs and traffic those drugs,” said Jason Eligh, the Burma manager of UNODC. “At the same time, we must find a way to encourage them to participate in a wider solution for drug [eradication] in Shan State.”
Burma is the world’s second-largest poppy grower, with cultivation of opium poppy increasing in the last six years in Shan State.
According to the UNODC, 300,000 families in Shan State grow poppy plants for a living. “It is not easy to eradicate, as the opium plantation area is wide, and thousands of families rely on the income from this poppy cultivation,” Eligh said.
Another challenge to drug eradication in Burma is “the financial investment in poppy cultivation” by different armed groups, he added.
RCSS chief Lt-Gen Yawd Serk said the ethnic rebel group was working with the UNODC to launch a pilot project in Shan State’s Moe Nae and Mai Pan townships. He said the rebel group also spoke with government officials this week about the drug issue.
Yawd Serk said many people in Shan State had turned to poppy cultivation because other economic opportunities were diminished by decades-long civil wars between ethnic armed groups and the government’s army.
“People have grown poppy plants in order to survive these past decades, as there has been fighting in their areas,” he said.
“Now we have a ceasefire agreement with the government,” he added. “So now we can work on the development sector, including rehabilitation for poppy growers and drug eradication. We will use substitution crops to improve people’s lives.”
The UNODC country manager agreed that a ceasefire and a market for substitution crops would help families in Shan State.
“They are growing poppy, not because they are bad, but because households simply do not have enough food to eat,” Eligh said.