Burma continued to cut opium poppy cultivation this year, but remains vulnerable to periodic spikes in opium production. Burma's reduction in opium cultivation has been accompanied by significant increases in the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs. While Burma remains the second largest opium poppy grower in the world after Afghanistan, its share of world opium poppy cultivation has fallen from 63 percent in 1998 to 11 percent in 2006. This large proportional decrease is due to a significant decrease of opium poppy cultivation in Burma and a large increase in cultivation in Afghanistan. Aided by Burma's decline, the Golden Triangle region in Southeast Asia no longer reigns as the world's largest opium poppy cultivating region. Its share of the world opium cultivation fell from 66 percent in 1998 to only 12 percent in 2006.
Over a longer time horizon of the last eight years, Burma's opium cultivation has declined dramatically. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates a decrease from 130,000 hectares in 1998 to 21,000 hectares in 2006, an 83 percent decrease. Cultivation during the past year dropped from 40,000 hectares to 21,000 hectares. The most significant decline was observed in the Wa region following the United Wa State Army's (UWSA) pledge to end opium poppy cultivation in its primary territory, UWSA Region 2. UWSA controlled territory accounted for over 30 percent of the acreage of national opium poppy cultivation in 2005, but almost no poppy cultivation was reported in the Wa region in 2006.
The trend of continuing decline in opium poppy cultivation is welcome, but it also points to new challenges. Burma has not provided most opium farmers with access to alternative development opportunities. Furthermore, some opium farmers may be tempted to increase production to take advantage of higher prices generated by opium's relative scarcity, and continuing strong demand. Increased yields in remaining poppy fields (particularly in Southern Shan State) may partially offset the affects of decreased cultivation. Favorable weather conditions in 2006 and improved cultivation practices contributed to higher yields. Higher yields in some areas may also signal more sophisticated criminal activity, greater cross border networking, and the transfer of new and improved cultivation techniques.
Burma's declining poppy cultivation has been accompanied by a sharp increase in production and export of synthetic drugs, threatening to turn the Golden Triangle into an "Ice Triangle." Burma plays a leading role in the regional traffic of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS). Drug gangs based in the Burma-China and Burma-Thailand border areas, many of whose members are ethnic Chinese, produce several hundred million methamphetamine tablets annually for markets in Thailand, China, and India as well as for onward distribution. There are also indications that groups in Burma increased production and trafficking of crystal methamphetamine or "Ice"--a higher purity and more potent form of methamphetamine than the tablets.
In addition to information-sharing and regular cooperation with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Australian Federal Police (AFP) on narcotics investigations, the Government of Burma (GOB) has increased its law enforcement cooperation with Thai, Chinese and Indian counternarcotics authorities, especially through renditions, deportations, and extraditions of suspected drug traffickers.
During the 2006 drug certification process, the U.S. determined that Burma was one of only two countries in the world (the other being Venezuela) that had "failed demonstrably" to meet international counternarcotics obligations. Major concerns include: unsatisfactory efforts by Burma to deal with the burgeoning ATS production and trafficking problem; failure to take action to bring members of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) to justice following the unsealing of a U.S. indictment against them in January 2005; failure to investigate and prosecute senior military officials for drug-related corruption; and failure to expand demand-reduction, prevention and drugtreatment programs to reduce drug-use and control the spread of HIV/AIDS. Burma is a party to 1988 UN Drug Convention.
II. Status of Country
Burma is the world's second largest producer of illicit opium. Eradication efforts and enforcement of poppy-free zones combined to reduce cultivation levels between1998-2006, especially in Wa territory. However, a small resurgence of cultivation occurred in 2006, particularly in eastern and southern Shan State, where improved weather conditions and new cultivation practices increased opium production levels, leading to a slight overall increase in cultivation and production in Burma.
According to the UNODC, opium prices in the Golden Triangle have increased over the past years. Burmese village-level opium prices or farm-gate prices have increased from $153 per kg in 2004 to $187 in 2005 and $230 in 2006. In Burma, opium sales contribute about half of the annual household cash income of farmers who cultivate opium, which they use to cover food shortages. Forty-three percent of the average yearly income ($437) of opium cultivating households was derived from opium sales in 2006. In 2006, the UNODC opium yield survey estimated there were approximately 21,000 hectares planted with opium poppies. In 2005 the U.S. estimated opium production in Burma at approximately 380 metric tons, a 14 percent increase over 2004. The UNODC's opium yield survey, using a different methodology, concluded that cultivation had actually declined 26 percent and production had declined 19 percent. Nonetheless, both surveys estimated a 2006 yield average of 9.2 kg per hectare, well below the peak level of 15.6 kg per hectare recorded in 1996. Both surveys also concluded that Burma experienced a significant downward trend over the past decade, with poppy cultivation and opium production declining by roughly 80 percent. The UNODC estimated opium production in Burma to be 315 metric tons in 2006 (somewhat less than in 2005), and the yield average to be 14.7 kg per hectare (significantly higher than in 2005).
Declining poppy cultivation has been accompanied by a sharp increase in the production and export of synthetic drugs. According to GOB figures for the first six months of 2006, ATS seizures totaled about 16.27 million tablets, an almost tenfold increase from 2005. Opium, heroin, and ATS are produced predominantly in the border regions of Shan State and in areas controlled by ethnic minority groups. Between 1989 and 1997, the Burmese government negotiated a series of ceasefire agreements with several armed ethnic minorities, offering limited autonomy and continued tolerance of narcotics production and trafficking activities in return for peace. In June 2005, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) announced implementation in Wa territory of a long-delayed ban on opium production and trafficking. While the cultivation of opium poppies decreased in the Wa territory during 2006, according to many reports Wa leadership replaced opium cultivation with the manufacture and trafficking of ATS pills and possibly "Ice" in their territory, predominantly by ethnic Chinese gangs.
Although the government has not succeeded in convincing the UWSA to stop its illicit drug production or trafficking, Burmese police Anti-narcotic Task Forces stepped up pressure against Wa traffickers in 2005 and 2006. In addition, the UWSA itself undertook limited enforcement actions. In May 2006, UWSA units found two clandestine laboratories operating in the Eastern Shan state (territory occupied and controlled by the UWSA-South). The UWSA units dismantled the two heroin refineries, which were operating in their area of control. When the UWSA units entered the lab sites, a firefight ensued, with eight people fatally wounded, four arrested, and 25 kg of heroin and 500,000 methamphetamine tablets seized by the raiding UWSA units. In June 2006, the UWSA passed custody of the contraband substances to Government of Burma (GOB) officials.
The prisoners remain in the custody of the UWSA. These UWSA actions likely were motivated more towards eliminating the competition in their area than by a desire to stop drug trafficking. In Burma, opium addiction remains high in places of historic or current opium production, ranging from 0.60 percent of the total adult population in Shan State to 0.72 percent in Kachin State and up to 0.83 percent in the Wa region, the main area of opium production through 2006.
III. Country Actions Against Drugs in 2006
Policy Initiatives. Burma's official 15-year counternarcotics plan, launched in 1999, calls for the eradication of all narcotics production and trafficking by the year 2014, one year ahead of an ASEAN-wide plan of action that calls for the region to be drug-free by 2015. To meet this goal the GOB has initiated the plan in stages using eradication efforts combined with planned alternative development programs in individual townships, predominantly in Shan State. The government initiated its second five-year phase in 2004. Ground surveys by the Joint GOB-UNODC Illicit Crop Monitoring Program indicate a steady decline in poppy cultivation and opium production due to enforcement, some alternative livelihood measures, which include crop substitution, discovery and closure of clandestine refineries, interdiction of illicit traffic, and annual poppy eradication programs. The UNODC estimates that the GOB eradicated 3,970 hectares of opium poppy in 2006.
The most significant multilateral effort in support of Burma's counternarcotics efforts is the UNODC presence in northeastern Shan State. The UNODC's "Wa Project" was initially a fiveyear, $12.1 million supply-reduction program designed to encourage alternative development in territory controlled by the UWSA. In order to meet basic human needs and ensure the sustainability of the UWSA opium ban announced in 2005, the UNODC extended the project until 2007, increased the total budget to $16.8 million, and broadened the scope from 16 villages to the entire Wa Special Region No. 2. Major donors that have supported the Wa Project include the United States, (however, the USG halted funding after the Wa made death threats against DEA agents) Japan and Germany, while the UK and Australia recently made additional contributions.
As part of the 15-year counternarcotics plan, in 2002 the Burmese Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) initiated the "New Destiny" project, which calls for the complete eradication of poppy cultivation and its replacement with substitute crops. The GOB has claimed that since the implementation in April 2002 of New Destiny in high-density areas of poppy cultivation (in Shan State, Kachin State, and Kayah State), poppy farmers have surrendered on their own volition over 163,720 kg of poppy seeds, which were then destroyed. This destruction prevented poppy from being cultivated on 40,573 hectares with a potential production of 40.01 metric tons of heroin. The GOB, under its 1993 Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law, has issued notifications in subsequent years controlling 124 narcotic drugs, 113 psychotropic substances, and 25 precursor chemicals. Burma enacted a "Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Law" in 2004.
Law Enforcement Measures. The CCDAC, which leads all drug-enforcement efforts in Burma, is comprised of personnel from the police, customs, military intelligence, and army. The CCDAC, effectively under the control of the Ministry of Home Affairs, coordinates 25 drug-enforcement task forces around the country, with most located in major cities and along key transit routes near Burma's borders with China, India, and Thailand. As is the case with most Burmese government entities, the CCDAC suffers badly from a lack of adequate resources to support its law-enforcement mission. There are 25 Anti-Narcotics Units located around Burma under the command of the Burmese Police, the lead counternarcotics law enforcement agency. The Burmese Army and Customs Department support the Police in this role. In 2005, CCDAC established two new anti-narcotic task forces in Rangoon and Mandalay, supplementing existing task forces in both cities. The GOB also established a Financial Investigation Team (FIT), based in Mandalay, to serve as a clearinghouse for northern Burma. This new team, established with assistance from DEA and the AFP, complements an existing FIT based in Rangoon.
Burma is actively engaged in drug-abuse control with its neighbors China, India, and Thailand. Since 1997, Burma and Thailand have had 11 cross-border law enforcement cooperation meetings. The most significant result of this cooperation has been the repatriation by Burmese police of drug suspects wanted by Thai authorities: two in 2004, one in 2005 and one in 2006. According to the GOB, Thailand has contributed over $1.6 million to support an opium crop substitution and infrastructure project in southeastern Shan State. Burma-China cross border law enforcement cooperation has also increased, resulting in successful operations and the handover of several Chinese fugitives who had fled to Burma. A joint operation by Burmese and Chinese police resulted in the seizure of 496 kg of heroin in Eastern Shan State in September 2005. While not formally funding alternative development programs, the Chinese government has encouraged investment in many projects in the Wa area, particularly in commercial enterprises such as tea plantations, rubber plantations, and pig farms and has assisted in marketing those products in China through relaxation of duties and taxes.
The last formal Burma/China meeting was held at Pyin-Oo Lwin, Burma, on December 12, 2005. After Burma and India signed an agreement on drug control cooperation in 1993, the two countries have held cross border Law Enforcement meetings on a biannual basis, the last being held September 11, 2004, in Calcutta.
Since the 2005 U.S. federal indictments against the seven UWSA leaders, the GOB has to date taken no direct action against any of the seven indicted UWSA leaders, although authorities have taken action against other, lower ranking members of the UWSA syndicate.
Narcotics Seizures. Heroin, opium, and methamphetamine seizures have all Increased since 2005. Summary statistics provided by Burmese drug officials indicate that during the first six months of 2006, Burmese police, army, and the Customs Service together seized 1,406.69 kg of raw opium, 154 kg of heroin, 22.03 kg of marijuana, and just over 16.27 million methamphetamine tablets. In January 2006, Chinese police located a wanted Burmese national and major heroin financier, Yang Ah Hong, in Shanghai and handed him over to Burmese Police. In February 2006, Burmese Police Officers from the Anti-Narcotic Task Force (ANTF) in Tachilek arrested two Burmese nationals after a search of a truck belonging to one of the suspects revealed 100,000 methamphetamine tablets and 1,100 Ecstasy tablets. In March 2006, acting on information received from sources, officers from ANTF Tachilek stopped a Toyota pick-up truck at the entrance of the city limits of Lashio, Burma, and found approximately 48 kg of heroin concealed in a false compartment under the bed of the truck. The driver was arrested. In May 2006, a joint DEA Rangoon, Thai Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) and Burmese CCDAC ANTF operation resulted in the arrest of 16 subjects in Eastern Shan State, and the seizure of approximately 340 kg of heroin, 65.2 kg of opium, 1.08 kg of opium gum and 140 gallons of opium in solution. This operation also resulted in the seizure of two active heroin refineries. The ANTF also discovered and destroyed seven heroin refineries in 2006. In May 2006, ANTF officers arrested two Burmese citizens, a husband and wife, at Switlwe Port, Eastern Shan State, in possession of 48 blocks of heroin (approximately 16 kg). Also in May 2006, the CCDAC conducted an operation at Rangoon international airport, which resulted in the seizure of approximately 3.65 kg of heroin and the arrest of two subjects. On May 28, 2006, police in Eastern Shan state seized 688,000 tablets of methamphetamine and arrested two suspects. In June 2006, police in Mandalay arrested four Burmese nationals and seized 15 kg of ketamine. In October 2006, Police in the Taunggyi ANTF seized 385 vials of ketamine. Each vial was marked as containing 500 milligrams of ketamine hydrochloride.
However, Burma's efforts to combat the production and trafficking of ATS have been unsatisfactory. While seizures are made, they are not at levels commensurate with the burgeoning ATS problem.
Corruption. Burma signed but has not ratified the UN Corruption Convention. Burma does not yet have a legislature or effective constitution; and has no laws on record specifically related to corruption. There is little reliable evidence that senior officials in the Burmese Government are directly involved in the drug trade. However, lower level government officials, particularly army and police personnel posted in border areas, are widely believed to be involved in facilitating the drug trade. Some officials have been prosecuted for drug abuse and/or narcotics-related corruption. In 2006, long prison terms were handed down for several officials of Customs and the Border Trade Committee. The Director General of Burmese Customs was sentenced to 66 years imprisonment and his personal assistant was sentenced to seven years in jail. In 2006, several directors and assistant managers of the Ministry of Trade assigned to the Border Trade Committee in Muse Township, Kutkhaing, were also sentenced to prison terms ranging from seven to forty years based on charges of involvement in illegal trading. However, Burma has failed to indict any military official above the rank of colonel for drug-related corruption.
Agreements and Treaties. Burma is a party to the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (and became a member of the 1972 Protocol to the Single Convention in 2003), the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and the 1988 UN Drug Convention.
Cultivation and Production. According to the UNODC opium yield estimate, in 2006 the total land area under poppy cultivation was 21,500 hectares, a 34 percent decrease from the previous year. The UNODC also estimated that the potential production of opium increased by one percent, from 312 metric tons in 2005 to 315 metric tons in 2006. Despite the decrease in total land under poppy cultivation, the slight increase in potential opium production indicated in the UNODC estimate may reflect improved agricultural methods and more favorable weather conditions in opium poppy growing areas, such as Shan State.
Burma as yet has failed to establish a reliable mechanism for the measurement of ATS production. Moreover, while the U.S. and UNODC undertake estimates of poppy cultivation and production, Burma once again declined to participate in a joint crop survey with the U.S.
Drug Flow/Transit. Most ATS and heroin in Burma is produced in small, mobile labs located near Burma's borders with China and Thailand, primarily in territories controlled by active or former insurgent groups. A growing amount of methamphetamine is reportedly produced in labs co-located with heroin refineries in areas controlled by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S), and groups in the ethnic Chinese Kokang autonomous region. Ethnic Chinese criminal gangs dominate the drug syndicates operating in these three areas. Heroin and methamphetamine produced by these groups are trafficked overland (or via the Mekong River) primarily through China, Thailand, India, and, to a lesser extent, Laos, Bangladesh, and within Burma. Heroin seizures in 2005 and 2006 and subsequent investigations revealed the increased use by international syndicates of the Rangoon International Airport and Rangoon port for trafficking of drugs to the global narcotics market.
Demand Reduction. The overall level of drug abuse is low in Burma compared with neighboring countries, in part because most Burmese are too poor to afford a drug habit. Traditionally, some farmers use opium as a painkiller and an anti-depressant, in part because they lack access to other medicine or adequate healthcare facilities. There has been a growing shift in Burma away from opium smoking toward injecting heroin, a habit that creates more addicts and poses greater public health risks. Deteriorating economic conditions will likely stifle substantial growth in overall drug consumption, but the trend toward injecting narcotics is of significant concern. The GOB maintains that there are only about 65,000 registered addicts in Burma, but surveys conducted by UNODC, among others, suggest that the addict population could be as high as 300,000. NGOs and community leaders report increasing use of heroin and synthetic drugs, particularly among disaffected youth in urban areas and by workers in mining communities in ethnic minority regions. The UNODC estimated that in 2004 there were at least 15,000 regular ATS users in Burma, and a joint UNODC/UNAIDS/WHO study estimated that there are between 30,000 and 130,000 injecting drug users.
There is also a growing HIV/AIDS epidemic tied to intravenous drug use. According to a UNODC regional center, an estimated 26 to 30 percent of officially reported HIV cases are attributable to intravenous drug use, one of the highest rates in the world. Infection rates are highest in Burma's ethnic regions, and specifically among mining communities in those areas where opium, heroin, and ATS are more readily available.
Burmese demand reduction programs are in part coercive and in part voluntary. Addicts are required to register with the GOB and can be prosecuted if they fail to register and accept treatment. Altogether, more than 21,000 addicts were prosecuted between 1994 and 2002 for failing to register. (The GOB has not provided data since 2002.) Demand reduction programs and facilities are limited, however. There are six major drug treatment centers under the Ministry of Health, 49 other smaller detoxification centers, and eight rehabilitation centers, which, together, have provided treatment to about 60,000 addicts over the past decade. As a pilot model, in 2003 UNODC established community-based treatment programs in Northern Shan State as an alternative to official GOB treatment centers. About 1,700 addicts have participated in this treatment over the past three years. Since 2006, an additional 8,028 addicts have sought medical treatment and support from UNODC-sponsored drop-in centers and outreach workers who are active throughout northeastern Shan State. The GOB also conducts a variety of narcotics awareness programs through the public school system. In addition, the government has established several demand reduction programs in cooperation with NGOs. These include programs coordinated with CARE Myanmar, World Concern, and Population Services International (PSI), all of which focus on addressing injected drug use as a key factor in halting the spread of HIV/AIDS.
However, while maintaining these programs at pre-existing levels, Burma has failed to expand demand-reduction, prevention, and drug-treatment programs to reduce drug use and control the spread of HIV/AIDS. The Global Fund for AIDS, TB, and Malaria had approved grants totaling $98.5 million for Burma but withdrew in late 2005 due to the government's onerous restrictions and lack of full cooperation.
IV. U.S. Policy Initiatives and Programs
Policy and Programs. As a result of the 1988 suspension of direct USG counternarcotics assistance to Burma, the USG only engages the Burmese government in regard to narcotics control on a very limited level. DEA, through the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon, shares drug-related intelligence with the GOB and conducts joint drug-enforcement investigations with Burmese counternarcotics authorities. In 2006, these joint investigations led to significant seizures, arrests, and convictions of drug traffickers and producers. The U.S. conducted opium yield surveys in the mountainous regions of Shan State from 1993 until 2004, with assistance provided by Burmese counterparts. These surveys gave both governments a more accurate understanding of the scope, magnitude, and changing geographic distribution of Burma's opium crop. As in 2005, the GOB refused in 2006 to allow another joint opium yield survey. A USG remote sensing estimate indicated that opium cultivation in Burma continues its long-term decline. Bilateral counternarcotics projects are limited to one small U.S.-supported crop substitution project in Shan State. No U.S. counternarcotics funding directly benefits or passes through the GOB.
The Road Ahead. The Burmese government has made significant gains in recent years in reducing opium poppy cultivation and opium production, and has cooperated with UNODC and major regional partners (particularly China and Thailand) in this struggle. Although large-scale and longterm international aid--including development assistance and law-enforcement aid--could play a vital role in further curbing drug production and trafficking in Burma, the ruling military regime's ongoing political repression and barriers to outside assistance have limited international support of all kinds, including support for Burma's law enforcement efforts. Furthermore, in order to be sustainable, a true opium replacement strategy must combine an extensive range of counternarcotics actions, including crop eradication, effective law enforcement, alternative development options, and support for former poppy farmers. The GOB must foster closer cooperation with the ethnic groups involved in drug production and trafficking, especially the Wa, tackle corruption effectively, and enforce counternarcotics laws to eliminate poppy cultivation and opium production.
The USG believes that the GOB must further eliminate poppy cultivation and opium production; prosecute drug-related corruption, especially by corrupt government and military officials who facilitate or condone drug trafficking and money laundering; take action against high-level drug traffickers and their organizations; strictly enforce its money-laundering legislation; and expand prevention and drug-treatment programs to reduce drug use and control the rapid spread of HIV/AIDS. The GOB must take effective new steps to address the explosion of ATS that has flooded the region by gaining closer support and cooperation from ethnic groups, especially the Wa, who facilitate the manufacture and distribution of ATS, primarily by ethnic Chinese gangs. The GOB must close production labs and prevent the illicit import of precursor chemicals needed to produce synthetic drugs. Finally, the GOB must stem the troubling growth of a domestic market for the consumption of ATS.
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|Title Annotation:||Southeast Asia|
|Publication:||International Narcotics Control Strategy Report|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|