Calls made to end opium trade in Myanmar's Shan state | Asia Pacific

Calls made to end opium trade in Myanmar's Shan state

Calls made to end opium trade in Myanmar's Shan state

Updated 18 April 2013, 22:02 AEST

Local people in Myanmar's Shan state say opium poppy plantations are thriving because farmers have few options for substitute crops.

The Kayan New Land Party, an ethnic group operating in the area, says government officials are ignoring the problem.

Others say the army has an inconsistent policy which in some cases supports cultivation.

The comments coincide with the urging by the United Nations for countries of the region to prioritise ending the drug trade in Myanmar.

Correspondent: Karon Snowdon.

Speakers: Saw Lwin, General Secretary, Kayan New Land Party; Khuensai Jaiyen editor Shan Herald and the lead author of the annual Shan Drug Report; Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC's Regional Representative in Bangkok; Dr Sandeep Chawla the Deputy Executive Director of the UNODC

SNOWDON: Saw Lwin, is the General Secretary of the Kayan New Land Party representing one of the many ethnic groups found in and near the Shan states.

LWIN: In Phekon township, we are very much aware that poppy plantation's are growing. We cannot deny that because it is the fact. In this area, crops including the paddy don't grow well so people turn to poppy growing. When they find out that it brings good income, they grow more.

SNOWDON: The UN's Office on Drugs and Crime has this week released its most comprehensive report on Transnational Crime in East Asia.

It names the narcotics trade as the biggest illegal activity with the Golden Triangle supplying two thirds of the region's supply of herion.

That's no news to most people perhaps what is news is that despite a new reformist government in Naypidaw and the effort of international agencies, the cultivation of opium and the manufacture of methamphetamines are increasing.

A week ago the Lao government seized 25 million dollars worth in one haul. 70 tonnes of crystal meth are consumed in East Asia every year.

Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC's Regional Representative in Bangkok says the trade affects the whole region.

DOUGLAS: So a very very big criminal justice impact. The justice systems in the Mekong are overwhelmed with drug crime but at the same time its overwhelmed with the health systems.

SNOWDON: Opium production has been rising since 2006, despite the government's 2014 drug free deadline. Drug addiction is on the rise in Myanmar, China, Indonesia and elsewhere.

The Shan Drug Watch newsletter is an annual report whose lead author is the Editor of the Shan Herald, Khuensai Jaiyen.

He says the problem of poppy cultivation is unneccessarily large and not being tackled.

JAIYEN: People are trying to douse the smoke instead of the fire.

SNOWDON: What is the solution?

JAIYEN: The solution is of course political.

SNOWDON: The lawlessness associated with the many long running ethnic conflicts has encouraged the trade, crime and corruption.

In October last year the Shan State Army, one of the biggest resistance forces, signed an agreemeent with the government for an alternative development project, following other successful ceasefire agreements.

Yet the peace is fragile, extreme poverty endemic and the plantations extremely remote.

Kuensai Jaiyen says opium farmers have no choice.

He says the law enforcement approach of catching so called kingpins who are quickly replaced is not working.

JAIYEN: The burden is on the people especially the farmers. Now they can't depend on just rice because if they depend on rice they have to feed the army, the army-run militias, they have to feed the rebels so they don't have enough to eat. The way out is to grow opium.

SNOWDON: Kuensai Jaiyen says better agreements between armed groups and the government would help.

Saw Lwin the representative of the Kayan New Land Party which disarmed in 1996 agrees and wants more development assistance.

LWIN: Whenever we meet government officials and international organizations, we always demand that crops substitution programs should be made available for the people. In order to do that, we need water, people don't even have enough water to drink or wash their face so we must improve the water system.

SNOWDON: The UN says the job is too big for Myanmar alone.

Dr Sandeep Chawla the Deputy Executive Director of the UNODC says the international community should lend assistance and prioritise ridding Myanmar of the illegal drug trade.

CHAWLA: Bringing the rule of law and more effective government to the regions of Myanmar which are along the borders particularly the north east, the Shan states . So prioritising Myanmar is simply something that needs to be done within the context of the region and clearly that's something that can be given more attention to with the change in government that's happening in the country at the moment.

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