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  1. Terrapinzflyer
    Opium cultivation surging under junta's control in Burma

    Opium cultivation surging under junta's control in Burma

    A new report released today by Palaung researchers reveal that opium cultivation in Burma's northern Shan State has been increasing rapidly over the past three years in areas under the control of the ruling military government.

    Poisoned Hills by the Palaung Women's Organization documents that areas under opium cultivation increased up to five-fold in Mantong and Namkham townships between 2006 and 2009 to almost 4,500 hectares. This is far higher than estimates in the annual opium surveys of the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime.

    Local authorities, army battalions and pro-government militia are profiting from "taxation" of opium farmers. Official "anti-drug teams", instead of eradicating poppy fields, are extorting large sums from local farmers and leaving the crop intact. The report documents that bribes totaling at least 37 million kyat (US$37,000) were collected in Mantong Township during the 2007-8 season.

    These areas were under the control of the resistance forces of the Palaung State Liberation Army (PSLA) which had a ceasefire with the regime until it was forced to surrender in 2005. Since then the regime has expanded its forces and pro-government militia to maintain control.

    "Today more of the regime's troops and militias are everywhere. For us this has meant more drugs and more addiction" says Lway Nway Hnoung, principal researcher of the report.

    Community assessments found addiction rates soaring in these areas. In one village surveyed in Mantong Township, 85% of males over age 15 were addicted to either opium or heroin.

    "In our area, if we don't marry a drug addict, we have no one to get married with because everyone is a drug addict. The only men who aren't using drugs are the monks who stay in the monastery" said one woman interviewed for the report.

    The report emphasizes that a negotiated resolution to the political issues at the root of Burma's civil war and political reform are needed to address the drug issue.

    "As long as this regime remains in power, drugs will continue to poison people in Burma and the region" said Lway Nway Hnoung.

    Chiang Mai,
    26 January,
    Editor: (Asiantribune.com):



  1. chillinwill
    Re: Opium cultivation surging under junta's control in Burma

    Opium Addiction 'Poisoning' Palaung, Says Report

    Increased opium cultivation in ethnic Palaung areas of northern Shan State is creating widespread addiction and poisoning Palaung youths, according to a new report by the Palaung Women's Organization (PWO).
    The report titled “Poisoned Hills,” which was released on Tuesday, said that opium fields are flourishing not only in “insurgent and cease-fire areas,” as claimed by the UN, but also in Burmese government-controlled areas.

    The Palaung researchers said they conducted field surveys in Namkham and Mantong townships in the Palaung region between 2007 and 2009, and found that the total area of cultivated opium had increased up to fivefold over three years—from 963 hectares in 2006-07 to 4,545 hectares in 2008-09.

    Lway Nway Hnoung, one of the researchers on the report, said she collected information by conducting interviews with local villagers, village heads, drug addicts and relatives of drug addicts from about 100 villages in the region.

    Several housewives said that drug addiction often led to stealing and domestic violence within families and that the youths in the region often lost interest in studying, she said.

    According to local villagers who were interviewed, the widespread availability of the drug was responsible for more and more men and boys becoming addicts.

    “The only men who aren't using drugs are the monks who stay in the monasteries,” one Palaung woman reportedly said.

    In a village surveyed in Mantong, it was found that that the percentage of men aged 15 and older who were addicted to opium had increased from 57 percent in 2007 to 85 percent in 2009, according to the report.

    The PWO report said that drug addicts “flock openly to drug camps” in Namkham where dealers sell heroin and amphetamines from their houses.

    Namkham and Mantong are under the control of the Burmese government forces, although they were previously administered by the Palaung State Liberation Army until it surrendered to the Burmese armed forces in 2005.

    The report said that local Burmese authorities—the army, police and pro-junta militia—were involved in the drug trade.

    Police have reportedly formed "anti-drug teams" in the regions. However, instead of eradicating poppy fields, they are extorting large sums from local farmers and then letting them grow the crop, the report said, adding that during 2007 and 2008, in Mantong, at least 37 million kyat (US $37,000) in bribes was collected from 28 villages.

    The report emphasized that “a negotiated resolution to the political issues at the root of Burma’s civil war and political reform are needed to address the drug issue” which is impacting the region.

    “As long as this regime remains in power, drugs will continue to poison people in Burma and the region,” said Lway Nway Hnoung.

    According to the 2009 annual survey of poppy cultivation in Southeast Asia by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the total area under opium poppy cultivation in Burma in 2008 was estimated at 28,500 hectares, representing an increase of 3 percent from the 27,700 hectares under cultivation in 2007.

    The largest region for opium cultivation was Shan State, the UNODC survey said, where 89 percent of the total opium poppy in Burma was grown. Southern and eastern Shan states accounted for 53.7 percent and 33 percent respectively. Northern Shan State remained low with a cultivation area representing only 3 percent of national cultivation, even though it had increased by 105 percent from 2007 and by 233 percent from 2006.

    Neighboring Kachin and Karenni states remained with low levels of cultivation—5 percent and 6 percent respectively in 2008, according to the UNODC.

    January 26, 2010
  2. enquirewithin
    A report exposing the spreading opium fields in the north-eastern corner of the military-ruled Burma has brought to light an equally revealing story. It was produced by a team of ethnic women who risked their lives to document the heroin-filled world they inhabit.

    "One of the most damning points of this new report is to show the extent of opium being grown in areas under the control of the Burmese military regime," said Debbie Stothard, coordinator of ALTSEAN, a regional human rights group monitoring rights violations in Burma.

    "The regime has tried to give the impression that poppy cultivation continues in areas only under the control of ethnic rebel groups," she told IPS. "But these women have seriously undermined that picture."

    "What these women have done must come as a rude shock to the regime," Stothard revealed. "They were able to do so because women have been largely under the radar in how information and intelligence is gathered in the field."

    Yet Stothard admitted that the women involved in the report, ‘Poisoned Hills’, released on Jan. 26, had embarked on a dangerous mission to complete their task. "They took great risks in gathering this information for they know what it means to be seen as an enemy by the junta."

    Some 30 women from the Palaung ethnic community, who live close to the border that Burma shares with China, were involved in the report that took two years to produce, said Lway Aye Nang, co-author of the groundbreaking report. "They were all above 25 years. Some had basic education – middle school, high school; some had gone to university."

    The Palaung are one of some 130 ethnic communities who live in Burma, also known as Myanmar. These include the Shan, the Karen and the Kachin. The majority of the South-east Asian country’s estimated 56 million people are Burmans.

    There is little mystery why the Palaung women were drawn to serve as grassroots researchers for the report produced by the Palaung Women’s Organisation (PWO), based in Mae Sot, a town along the Thai-Burma border. "They were directly affected by the consequence of opium cultivation in their communities," Lway Aye Nang remarked in an IPS interview.

    "We have been motivated in this research by the suffering of women in our communities whose lives are continuing to be devastated by the addiction of their husbands, sons and fathers," the report declares in its introduction.

    Most disturbing, according to PWO, is the litany of abuse wives face from their heroin-addicted husbands. These women, who make a barely livable income working in the tea cultivations in that hilly terrain, are verbally and physically abused when their husbands, who are reportedly unemployed, need money for a heroin fix.

    "The women have suffered more because of this," said Lway Aye Nang. "The men use violence to get money from their wives. They sometimes steal things the women own or things from the house to sell to buy drugs."

    Besides domestic violence, the Palaung women endure other trials. They range from being infected with HIV by their husbands to the inability to educate their children as the household incomes are drained to pay for the male heroin addiction.

    The PWO’s report goes beyond shredding the Burmese regime’s picture of the opium fields in the northern stretches of Shan state, part of the infamous drug-producing and -trafficking area spread across Thailand and Laos and dubbed the ‘Golden Triangle’. The 55-page ‘Poisoned Hills’ also questions the findings of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

    "Between 2007 and 2009, PWO conducted field surveys in Namkham and Mantong townships, and found that the total area of opium cultivated increased almost fivefold over three years from 963 hectares in the 2006-7 season to 4,545 hectares in the 2008-9 season," states the report.

    "The amounts are far higher than reported in the annual opium surveys of the (UNODC), and are flourishing not in ‘insurgent and ceasefire areas,’ as claimed by the U.N., but in areas controlled by Burma’s military government," adds the report.

    "Namkham and Mantong are both fully under the control of the (Burmese regime). The areas have an extensive security infrastructure, including Burmese army battalions, police and pro-government village militia."

    The U.N. drug agency’s findings, although more conservative, indicated that opium production was on the rise in north-eastern Burma, an area more extensive than the two townships surveyed for the PWO report.

    The area under opium cultivation had expanded by 11 percent since 2008 and by "almost 50 percent since 2006, reaching a total of 31,700 hectares in 2009," the U.N. agency revealed in mid-December in a survey, ‘Opium Poppy Cultivation in South-East Asia’. "More than one million people are now involved in opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar, most of them in Shan State, where 95 percent of Myanmar’s poppy is grown."

    But the current area of opium cultivation is still well below what it was in the 1990s, when the land area covered by opium fields was nearly five times the current number and earned Burma the notoriety of being the world’s leading opium producer.

    Burma gave way to Afghanistan as the world’s largest supplier of heroin after the junta declared publicly in 2000 that it was committed to eradicating opium fields in the country by 2014. Some eradication efforts saw the number of opium fields dwindle till 2005, for which the Burmese regime won much needed praise and support from the UNODC and the international community.

    Yet such praise by the UNODC of the junta’s efforts to end heroin production blinds it to the actual picture on the ground, said Khuensai Jaiyen, editor of the ‘Shan Herald Agency for News’, a web publication based in Thailand’s northern city of Chiang Mai. "This is what the report by the PWO also confirms."

    "They (UNODC) rely too much on official information the junta gives them," said Khuensai, who has written extensively about Burma’s narcotics trade. "They need to work with the local ethnic groups to get a better picture."

    The courageous women of Palaung have provided that picture.

    By Marwaan Macan-Markar | BANGKOK, Jan 31, 2010 (IPS)

  3. chillinwill
  4. enquirewithin
    Yes, I should have put this in that thread.
  5. Spucky
    How Myanmar's opium grows

    How Myanmar`s Opium grows

    Saturday, 30 January 2010 12:53 Brian McCartan (Asia Times)

    BANGKOK - The controversy over the scale of Myanmar's opium production took another turn with the release of a new report that claims cultivation has surged in territories where the military government has recently taken control. The report draws more extreme conclusions than recent research released by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), whose Bangkok-based representatives declined an invitation to attend the new report's release.

    Entitled "Poisoned Hills: Opium cultivation surges under government control in Burma", the report was released by the Palaung Women's Organization (PWO), a non-governmental organization based in Mae Sot, Thailand. The new research corroborates the findings of previous reports about the drug trade in Myanmar, also known as Burma, published by the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), which unlike the UNODC relies on an extensive network of sources inside the Shan state for its data.

    The PWO report said that "amounts [of opium grown] are far higher than reported in the annual surveys of the [UNODC], and are flourishing not in 'insurgent and ceasefire areas,' as claimed by the UN, but in areas controlled by Burma's military government". The report described how Myanmar authorities systematically extort fees from opium poppy farmers and file false eradication reports. The group concluded that "unless the regime's militarization strategies are challenged, international funding will make little difference to the drug problem in Burma".

    Those findings contrast sharply with the UNODC's own survey of opium production in Southeast Asia, which was released on December 14 to a large crowd of UN representatives, embassy officials and Thai and Western counter-narcotics officials, none of whom were present for the PWO's report's release. That's potentially because the UNODC relies on exclusive cooperation with Myanmar's military and government ministries and departments for its information and ground surveys, some analysts
    suggested at the PWO's report release.

    The PWO report's findings are consistent with SHAN claims that the spread of opium poppy cultivation is directly related to the spread of government-backed and -trained militias in the area. According to SHAN editor Sai Khuensai Jaiyen, a long-time observer of the narcotics trade in Myanmar, Shan State areas that have fallen from insurgent to government control have seen a marked increase in the opium production.

    At a press conference on Tuesday, he characterized that surge as a "balloon effect", wherein ceasefire groups that have banned cultivation in their own territories have seen it spread to new adjacent areas - all of which is under government control. By 2006, all known major drug-producing groups in Shan State had declared their areas free of poppy cultivation.

    The National Democratic Alliance Army in northeastern Shan State made the claim in 1997; the Kokang in northern Shan State in 2002; the United Wa State Army, which is known to have diversified into methamphetamine production, in 2005; and the Loi Maw area in northern Shan State, the birthplace and one of the former operating areas of notorious drug lord Khun Sa, in 2006.

    Although opium is no longer grown in these groups' controlled areas, Sai Kheunsai and sources close to Thai counter-narcotics officials say they are still involved in purchasing raw opium from growers and refining it into heroin. Much of the opium and heroin is then sold in the Golden Triangle region of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand to buyers from Hong Kong, from where it is often trafficked into China.

    Drug-dealing militias Since 2004, the junta has encouraged the formation of militias as an armed hedge against increasingly recalcitrant ceasefire armies. The trade-off is that the militias are allowed to engage in business activities, both legal and illegal, to support their operations. Members of community organizations representing ethnic Shan, Palaung, Kachin, Lahu and other groups in Shan State have claimed in interviews with this correspondent that government-backed militia commanders are involved in the cultivation, purchase and processing of opium in their controlled areas.

    "The situation now is not unlike the Ka Kwe Yay time," said Sai Khuensai, referring to the historical period between 1963 and 1972 when government-recognized militia groups were allowed to trade in opium in exchange for fighting against various rebel groups then active in the Shan State.

    Because many of the militia groups were more interested in the narcotics trade than fighting and eventually struck their own deals with rebels, the program was disbanded. By then, the program had spawned several now notorious druglords, including former Mong Tai Army leader Khun Sa and narcotics trafficker-turned-businessman and regime confidante Lo Hsing Han.

    Curiously, the UNODC's 2009 opium survey for Myanmar makes no mention of these militia groups or their possible role in opium production. It does, however, note "indications that ceasefire groups are selling drugs to buy weapons and moving stocks to avoid detection". The leaders of those same groups, including Peng Jiasheng of the Kokang, Bao Youxiang of the UWSA and Lin Minxiang of the NDAA, were until recently lauded by the military government as "national race leaders" (ethnic group representatives) and their opium eradication efforts were praised by the generals as well as some counter-narcotics experts.

    The UNODC has maintained a presence in Wa areas since 1998 and has facilitated other UN agencies and development organizations to establish programs in Wa and Kokang areas. The UN agency has also promoted programs in crop substitution and rural development. While the regime praised leaders such as Peng and Bao and the UNODC worked with them on development and opium eradication projects, little was said about their continued purchase of raw opium and its refinement into heroin.

    Nor did the UNODC acknowledge some groups' switch to large-scale amphetamine production, which has helped to cover profits lost from opium eradication. The UNODC's 2009 opium survey says, "In 1996, the surrender of the notorious drug trafficker Khun Sa, leader of the Mong Tai Army, resulted in the collapse of armed resistance movements and led to the negotiation of a series of truce agreements with most breakaway factions."

    Analysts note that the end of large-scale warfare in the Shan State occurred seven years earlier, when the factions of the former Burmese Communist Party that mutinied in 1989 agreed to ceasefires with the government. All of these groups were given tacit approval to continue their activities in the narcotics trade in exchange for ceasefire agreements.

    In order to pressure ceasefire groups to transform their armed wings into military-controlled border guard forces, ahead of general elections planned for this year, the junta has recently condemned certain ceasefire group leaders. That includes the junta's publicizing of UWSA involvement in producing amphetamine shipments that have recently been seized along the Thai-Myanmar border.

    A search for drugs sparked the crisis that culminated in last August's offensive against former national race leader Peng Jiasheng and his Kokang ceasefire army. (See Border war rattles China-Myanmar ties, Asia Times Online, September 1, 2009)

    Since the late 1980s, the military regime has increased the number of battalions stationed in northern Myanmar. Currently over 150 battalions are based in Shan State alone. Rather than improve the security situation and end opium production, the increased military presence has resulted in rampant corruption.

    The PWO report describes in detail the extortion money - which authorities refer to as "taxes" - demanded by the government and military on opium farmers. The unofficial levies are similar to those human-rights groups such as the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) and others claim are imposed on farmers for both legal and illegal crops across the country.

    Corruption-riddled statistics Corruption also makes official eradication figures, frequently quoted by the UNODC, suspect. The PWO found in its research that only 11% of poppy fields in two townships they investigated were destroyed during the 2008-2009 growing season - and most of this was only in areas that were easily visible. It also noted that while the police claimed in their reports - which the PWO obtained - that 25% of fields were destroyed in the 2008-9 growing period, the actual figure was closer to 11%. Many of the fields that were reported as destroyed were actually left intact after the unofficial fees were paid and collected.

    Despite the many reports detailing official corruption in Myanmar, the UNODC has relied heavily on government eradication reports, as well as ground surveys carried out by authorities, to verify its satellite imagery-produced data used to produce its yearly survey. In one telling contradiction, the PWO found that in the two townships of Mantong and Namkham 963 hectares were under opium cultivation during the 2006-2007 growing season, 1,458 ha in 2007-2008 and 4,545 ha in 2008-2009.

    In contrast, the UNODC's survey claimed that 390 ha, 800 ha and 1,600 ha were under opium cultivation for those same years in all 23 townships in northern Shan State. The discrepancy in data raises questions about how a group of local women using researchers based in their own areas and on a limited budget where able to derive seemingly more comprehensive figures
    than the UNODC.

    Part of the reason for the increase in opium production can be blamed on economic mismanagement and poorly planned crop substitution programs. Farmers across the country have been hard hit by rising prices. In addition, traditional crops such as tea for the Palaung and the growing of leaves for cheroots by the Pa-O have seen drastic drops in price. At the same time, money must be found to pay the legal taxes and extortion fees by military units, police and government officials.

    Failures of substitution crops such as rubber and sugar have also impacted farmers. As the UNODC's opium survey noted, many farmers who had stopped opium cultivation for more than two years could not land upon adequate means of substituting for their lost income. Other farmers have been hit by the high costs of fertilizers and seeds for crops meant as opium poppy substitutes, such as maize and improved rice varieties from China. To pay for these inputs, many farmers have been forced into debt. The result, say researchers in Shan State, is many would rather risk farming opium and paying the unofficial "taxes".

    With the money being made from opium "taxes", the spread of opium-peddling government-backed militias and the tacit allowance of ceasefire groups to process opium in their areas, it is no wonder that the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) is behind on its 15-year eradication plan. According to Sai Khuensai, only 13 of 51 townships in Shan, Kachin, China and Kayah States targeted by the government have after 11 years become opium-free.

    He and other observers claim that in the meanwhile, opium cultivation has spread into areas of the country that had never previously grown poppies, including in Mandalay, Magwe and Sagaing divisions, as well as Arakan, Kayah and Chin States. Notably, none of those areas of the country was surveyed in the UNODC's 2009 survey report.

    At the root of the problem, say local groups such as PWO and SHAN as well as independent drug trade observers, is a dire need for political reform. Instead of taking the government's figures at face value and calling for an increase in international development assistance for the junta's flawed eradication efforts, the UNODC should push for more input from community-based organizations to improve the accuracy of its surveys.

    That would be a tough sell as curtailing the drug trade would cancel many of the incentives for ethnic leaders to form and lead militias loyal to the regime. It would also require vast new outlays from the central treasury to supply and equip much of the army which currently survives on revenues it collects from extortion fees. And more local-level collaboration with the UN agency would ultimately expose the regime's relations with drug trafficking organizations and the role the drug trade plays in perpetuating military rule.


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