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Myanmar's drug menace worries U.S.

The Hindu: Myanmar's drug menace worries US
By V. Jayanth
Singapore, Nov. 25: With the international focus now turned on democracy 
and human rights in Myanmar, the anti-drug enforcement authorities of the 
US have voiced concern at their inability to contain the drug menace from 
the country.
The American officials, who were on a visit to neighbor Thailand, 
reviewed the drugs and narcotics trade in the region, with a special 
focus on the Golden Triangle. They estimated that Myanmar accounted for 
almost 60 per cent of the heroin production in the world today, with 
current estimates suggesting that the country contributed about 230 tones 
of the drug, mostly for the world market.
Till pro-democracy uprising, the US was funding a programme to wipe out 
opium cultivation in Myanmar and hoping not only to stop production of 
heroin, but step up regional surveillance to put an end to trafficking. 
But when the military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council 
(SLORC) took over the administration in Myanmar, the US cut off all 
assistance and aid. It only maintains a diplomatic mission but not have 
an Ambassador-- only a Charge D' Affaires.
Washington has been pressuring Bangkok to step up its vigilance and 
ensure that its armed forces do not connive with the warlords in its 
borders with Myanmar and Laos to pave the way for a flourishing trade in 
drugs and narcotics. Under this pressure, Thailand has apparently acted 
to contain the problem and moved legally to deport at least a couple of 
persons wanted by American courts for drug trafficking.
The US wants Myanmar to crackdown on drugs and also weed out the 
cultivation of opium, particularly in its north and northeastern regions. 
But the SLORC has taken cover under the pretext that tribal and regional 
insurgent groups controlled those areas and the Government was involved 
both in a process of reconciliation and military action.
Earlier this year, when Khun Sa, a leading warlord and drug trader, 
called for truce and most of his cadres surrendered to the military 
authorities, there was a renewed pressure on Myanmar to take control of 
the region and stop drug trafficking. Despite initial reports that Khun 
Sa would be brought to trail in Yangon to face domestic charges, no such 
development has taken place. Thai authorities say that the once feared 
drug lord is now enjoying a retired life and the bulk of opium production 
and trafficking has now passed on to the control of a rival group that 
did not endorse the surrender or reconciliation.
The visiting American officials gave a clean chit to Thailand for its 
concerted attempted to stamp out trafficking through its borders and said 
there was no information now of drug lords holed up in the jungles of 
Thailand. But they said Bangkok, as the gateway to and for Indochina, had 
a continuing responsibility to keep a vigil and put down trafficking.
Though most of the Southeast Asian countries enacted tough laws awarding 
death penalty for drug traffickers and those found in possession of 
certain quantities ( outside medically prescribed limits for some 
ailments), the US maintain that most of the supply to North America came 
from this part of the world and that too from the Indochina region.
The US works closely with both Thailand and Cambodia, but has no say in 
Myanmar because of the strained relationship for some years now. The 
military authorities have taken sporadic action and even last week, 
claimed to have carried out the largest ever seizure of amphebetine 
tablets-- over 4.5 million of them were seized in a raid near the Thai 
Officials in Yangon say in the absence of international aid and 
assistance, the Slorc has been waging a lone battle not only against 
drugs and the remaining insurgent groups, but also working for the 
development of the country and its integration of southeast Asia. Because 
of the resource constraints, it could not go beyond what it was already 
This seems to be the new dilemma of the American agencies involved in 
evolving a policy on Myanmar-- should they stop for the present with a 
campaign for the restoration of democracy and an end to human rights 
violation, or also step up efforts to fight against drugs and trafficking?
Authorities here say in addition to the Indochina region, Indonesia has 
emerged as a major drug centre and the new, designer drugs like the 
fantasy pills were transiting through South East Asia countries from 
Europe to Indonesia. Many of these carriers were caught and huge volumes 
of the pill are being seized from air passengers and unclaimed cargo/parcels.