Growth in poppy cultivation delays UN deadline for Asia drug plan | Connect Asia

Growth in poppy cultivation delays UN deadline for Asia drug plan

Growth in poppy cultivation delays UN deadline for Asia drug plan

Updated 8 May 2013, 15:28 AEST

Myanmar has delayed by five years its deadline to eliminate drug production within its borders.

Deputy police chief Zaw Min says a growth in poppy cultivation, and the manufacture of amphetamine-type stimulants in the country, prompted the deadline extension.

Officials from China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have gathered in Myanmar for talks on a worsening drugs crisis, which the United Nations has warned poses a threat to public security.

A minister-level meeting in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw on Thursday is expected to produce a regional declaration on the issue.

Regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Jeremy Douglas, explains the reasons behind the rebound in poppy cultivation.

Presenter: Joanna McCarthy

Speaker: Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

DOUGLAS: There's a lot of factors contributing to the rebound, but the instability in the northern districts of the country, up in what's known as the Golden Triangle, it's fuelling some poverty and there's a lot of farmers that this is the only recourse to livelihood. It's a traditional way of making income for the people there.

MCCARTHY; And to what extent is this linked to those long running insurgencies on the Myanmar's border?
DOUGLAS: Well, I think it's definitely directly linked to the insurgencies there. A lot of the groups that are active make some income from the trade really, and so this is both in terms of opium trade, but also methamphetamine trade in particularly in the Shan state which borders China.
MCCARTHY: Indeed, what can you tell us about the growth of the methamphetamine trade, which traditionally we've always thought of the Golden Triangle in terms of opium production, but it seems that methamphetamines are becoming just as widely cultivated?
DOUGLAS; Well clearly, meth trade is very different business model. You have fewer people involved. You don't have the thousands of farmers involved, These are clandestine hidden labs run by syndicates and it takes what's called precursor chemicals. The precursor chemicals come in from neighbouring states from big chemical industries like India, like China. Then you have they're running labs up in the jungle, essentially to ship methamphetamine into the Greater Mekong Sub-Region, big markets like Thailand and other neighbouring states and it's proven the last few years to really be taking off. Seizures, drug seizures are up year-on-year to record levels at the moment, so countries are increasingly concerned about that trade right now.
MCCARTHY: So on reflection, does it seem that this 2014 aim of eliminating drug production in Myanmar really was wildly ambitious, perhaps too ambitious?
DOUGLAS: Well, I think it was clearly a very ambitious target. They wasn't the only state in the region to declare it wanted to be a drug-free area, sub region by 2015. That's proven yes, I'm not sure wildly ambitious, yes, extremely ambitious. So the countries have stepped back to reflect on the direction they now need to take together and they're rethinking and recalibrating their plans right now.
MCCARTHY: And is this something that can ever be resolved without coming up with a peace plan for those insurgencies in Myanmar's ethnic states?
DOUGLAS: Well, I think the two things are very much linked. They need to stabilise those areas,  to have human security they need development to take place within those areas. So we're looking at a holistic approach in the United Nations. UNODC is working with the law enforcement, the criminal justice institutions to strengthen them, to help in those areas. We're also working with other parts of the UN on food security for the people and to really to also other parts of the international community on infrastructure and development, so that the communities there have other options in front of them to stabilise those areas.
MCCARTHY: And Jeremy Douglas, you're at this meeting, ministerial level meeting with officials from China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. They're going to produce a regional declaration. What does that mean in practice for how the countries will work together to try to eliminate the drug trade?
DOUGLAS: Well, what's the states are going to be committing to are a series of targets. At the ministerial itself, it's very high level, but they're going to be committing strategically to work together in terms of cooperative law enforcement, cooperative criminal justice. At the same time, they're giving themselves some targets on alternative crops for the farmers and they're also looking at the health side of things. So the drug use side of things, because there's a lot of drug use in the region itself as well. So they're looking at health indicators and HIV as important things to work on as well.

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