U.S. Takes Aim at Drugs in Burma, Afghanistan

Jan. 30, 1997. A pile of heroin is set ablaze during a drug destruction ceremony in the Burmese capital. Photo: AFP/Files

WASHINGTON—Afghan opium poppy cultivation skyrocketed in 2004 to a new record while Burma "demonstrably failed" to meet international anti-drug obligations, the United States said Friday in its 2005 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report.

Afghanistan has been unable to contain opium poppy production and is "on the verge of becoming a narcotics state,'' the report said, adding that the area in Afghanistan devoted to poppy cultivation last year reached a record 206,700 hectares—more than triple the figure for 2003.

The Afghan narcotics situation "represents an enormous threat to world stability," the report said. It listed opium production at 4,950 metric tons, 17 times more than Burma, which placed second. Opium poppy is the raw material for heroin.

"Dangerous security conditions make implementing counternarcotics programs difficult and present a substantial obstacle to both poppy eradication efforts by the national government and to international efforts to provide related assistance," the report said.

Burma ranks second

Burma is the world’s second largest producer of illicit opium and a primary source of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) produced in Asia, but drug production there has dropped for eight years, the report said.

"Burma’s opium is grown predominantly in the border region of Shan State, in areas controlled by former insurgent groups (less than 1 percent of Burma’s poppy crop is grown outside of Shan State). Ethnic Wa cultivators along the Chinese border now account for 65 percent of Burma's total poppy crop, and major Wa traffickers continue to operate with impunity,” it said.

"During the 2004 drug certification process, the [U.S. government] determined that Burma was the only country in the world that had ‘failed demonstrably’ to meet its international counternarcotics obligations.”

Cash for North Korea

Burma plays a leading role in the regional traffic of ATS, and drug gangs based in the Burma/China and Burma/Thailand border areas annually produce several hundred million methamphetamine tablets for markets in Thailand, China, and India using precursors imported from those countries, the report said.

Heroin seizures in 2004, and subsequent investigations, revealed the increased use by international syndicates of the Rangoon international airport and port for trafficking of drugs to the global narcotics market, it said.

Dangerous security conditions make implementing counternarcotics programs difficult and present a substantial obstacle to both poppy eradication efforts by the national government and to international efforts to provide related assistance.

North Korean officials have taken part in drug-trafficking and other criminal behavior, often using military-type patrol boats, the report said, adding that it was "likely, though not certain, that the North Korean government sponsors such illegal behavior as a way to earn foreign currency for the state and for its leaders."

On two occasions in 2004 North Korean diplomats were arrested for involvement in narcotics smuggling, it added.

Cambodia, China, and Laos

The number of drug-related investigations, arrests and seizures in Cambodia increased again in 2004, reflecting "an alarming escalation in drug activity and perhaps some increase in law enforcement capacity."

Cambodia has experienced a significant increase in recent years in the amount of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) transiting from the Golden Triangle, the report said.

China is a major factor in the regional drug market, serving as a transit country and an important producer/exporter of ATS, and China’s domestic problems with heroin and synthetic drugs such as Ecstasy (MDMA) and crystal methamphetamine, continues, the report said.

But it added that cooperation with United States counternarcotics officials has steadily improved over the last year.

Laos "continued to make some progress in its counternarcotics efforts during 2004. Most notable progress was registered in its efforts to eliminate opium poppy cultivation," the report said.

This included pursuit of "relatively low-level traffickers," improved bilateral and multilateral counternarcotics cooperation, and a sustained campaign to eradicate illicit opium poppy.


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