Opium production is rising in Myanmar under military rule, UN says

BANGKOK — Opium production in Myanmar has boomed since the military’s takeover, and poppy cultivation rose by a third last year as eradication efforts have slowed and the faltering economy has led to more people into drug trafficking, according to a United Nations report released Thursday.

In 2022, in the first full growing season since the military wrested control of the country from the democratically elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2021, Myanmar saw a 33% increase in cultivated area to 99,090 acres, according to the UN report. Office against Drugs and Crime.

“The economic, security and governance disruptions that followed the February 2021 military takeover have converged, and farmers in remote, often conflict-prone areas in the northern Shan and border states have had no choice. to return to opium,” the UN office said. regional representative, Jeremy Douglas.

The total value of Myanmar’s opiate economy, according to UN estimates, ranges from $660 million to $2 billion, depending on how much was sold locally and how much of the raw opium was processed into heroin or other drugs.

“Virtually all reported heroin in East and Southeast Asia and Australia originates from Myanmar, and the country remains the world’s second-largest producer of opium and heroin after Afghanistan,” Douglas said. “You cannot compare the two at the moment as Afghanistan still produces much more, but the ongoing expansion in Myanmar should not be discounted and needs attention as it is likely to continue; it is directly related to the security and economic situation that we see unfolding today. .”

The so-called Golden Triangle, where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet, has historically been a major opium production area and was home to many of the laboratories that turned opium into heroin. Decades of political instability have left the border regions of Myanmar, also known as Burma, largely lawless, to be exploited by drug producers and traffickers.

Most of Myanmar’s exported opium goes to China and Vietnam, while heroin goes to many countries in the region, Douglas said.

“That’s really where the value is for the traffickers,” he said. “Very high profits.”

Opium cultivation had been on a downward trend in recent years before the military took control of the government in 2021.

Production estimates bottomed out at 440 tons in 2020. After increasing slightly in 2021, it spiked in 2022 to about 870 tons, according to the report.

Since taking control of the government, the military’s use of deadly force to stay in power has intensified the conflict with its civilian opponents to the point that some experts describe the country as now in a state of civil war.

The costs have been high, with 2,810 people killed by government forces to date and 17,427 detained, according to the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners.

The violence has meant that the government has been unable to reach some areas to carry out drug eradication raids, and has also had to divert its resources elsewhere. As a result, eradication efforts appear to have declined substantially, with 3,467 acres eradicated in 2022, down 70% from 2021.

At the same time, as the conflict continues to take its toll on Myanmar’s economy, an increasing number of rural households have been forced to rely more on opium cultivation for income, the UN said.

“The expansion of opium production that is underway has to do primarily with poverty and the reaction of people in rural areas to the economic situation,” Douglas said. “He has always been there in difficult times. At the same time, the security situation is clearly difficult with the increasing frequency and intensity of conflicts, and those involved in the drug economy have been left largely unchecked.”

Its synthetic drug economy has also been growing for the same reasons, with reported regional seizures of methamphetamine and other drugs reaching record levels. In a single September raid in Laos, for example, authorities seized 33 million methamphetamine tablets along with 1,100 pounds of crystal meth.

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