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United Nations officials say
opium cultivation in Burma rose for the third straight year as ethnic rebel
groups sell drugs to buy arms. As Ron Corben reports from Bangkok, the increase
reverses past successes in cutting opium cultivation in Southeast Asia.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime - UNODC - said Monday that opium poppy
cultivation in Burma rose more than 10 percent in 2009 - the third successive
year of growth.
The agency's latest report covering Thailand, Laos and Burma says the area
poppies are cultivated on around 31,700 hectares. The increase followed a
dramatic decline from 1998 to 2005 from 130,000 hectares to just over 20,300
hectares in 2006.
UNODC officials say part of the reason for the increase may be political
instability in Burma, also called Myanmar. Some ethnic militia groups, such as
the Wa and Kachin, are selling drugs to buy weapons to fight the government.
Burma's military has set a deadline for ethnic groups, many who have been
fighting for decades for greater autonomy, to surrender their armies. News
reports say some of those groups do not want to disarm and are preparing to
Gary Lewis is the UNODC regional representative for East Asia and the Pacific
"We had seen in preceding years dramatic declines, precipitous declines in
opium poppy cultivation. In Myanmar, we are seeing increases in the last three
to four years now totalling almost 50 percent when compared to the picture in
2006. For us, with our focus on the issue of drug control, that represents an
unravelling of the process on containment and elimination."
In Burma, over one million people are said to be involved in opium production.
Opium is used to make heroin.
But Southeast Asia - once known as the Golden Triangle because of opium
production the border areas of Burma, Laos and Thailand - has been far
surpassed by Afghanistan over the past decade.
Leik Boonwaat, UNODC country office representative in Laos, says Afghanistan
now accounts for 95 percent of the global production of illegal opium. He says:
"The total value of
opium that has been produced for Myanmar -Burma - we estimate the total value
is something like $104 million. For Laos it is $15 million, while in Afghanistan
I think the total value we estimated this year at $438 million."
The UNODC says the total potential opium production in Southeast Asia has
fallen from 1,435 metric tons in 1998 to just 345 metric tons in 2009, down
more than 75 percent.
The UNODC says to cut production further the international community must help
farming communities find alternative crops and livelihoods.