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Myanmar govt and rebels 'ink deal to eradicate drugs'

By Docta, May 20, 2012 | |
  1. Docta
    View attachment 26320 KENGTUNG, Myanmar (AFP) - Myanmar's government and ethnic rebels engaged in peace talks signed a deal Saturday to wipe out drug production in Shan state, a minister involved in negotiations told AFP.

    The Restoration Council of Shan State and its military wing the Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) had proposed a raft of measures to "eradicate" opium and amphetamine production in the area, a notorious drugs hub bordering Thailand.

    The government signed an accord with rebels, Railways Minister Aung Min said after the latest round of peace talks in Kengtung, Shan State on Saturday. He did not provide details of the deal.

    Rebel negotiators had called for a cross-border blitz on drug production, urged funds to be made available to poppy farmers who abandon the crop and for traffickers to be punished.

    "RCSS wants total eradication of narcotic drugs," the group said in a document released in conjunction with the SSA.

    "As the ethnic armed groups and the government have made ceasefire(s) to solve the political issues... the RCSS will cooperate with the government through the drug eradication plan."

    The rebels also asked to meet reformist President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar's capital Naypyidaw, a request Aung Min said would be "discussed" by the government.

    Myanmar's multiple ethnic rebel organisations generally use profits from narcotics to fund their operations, analysts say.

    Shan state was labelled a production hub for drugs by a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report last year, which also branded Myanmar a "major source of methamphetamine pills and opiates in Southeast Asia".

    Methamphetamine -- known as "ice" in its crystalline form and "yaba" when produced as tablets -- has been a boom industry in impoverished Myanmar, and Saturday's statement was a rare recognition by the rebels of soaring output.

    The rebels also pledged to cooperate with neighbouring China, Laos and Thailand to "control" the cross-border movement of chemicals used to make the pills, often in small factories hidden in the jungle.

    Central to drug control efforts, the group said, is "uplifting the living standards of the poppy farmers" who should be given crops or livestock and offered training to find new revenue sources.

    It also urged punishment for "persons or armed groups protecting, owning, trading, producing and carrying narcotic drugs".

    The Shan State Army South agreed to a ceasefire with the government in December in response to peace overtures from Thein Sein.

    It had been one of the biggest rebel groups fighting Myanmar's army, mostly from guerrilla outposts bordering Thailand. The movement's exact demands are not clear, but they have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades.

    The mainly Buddhist Shan are the country's second-biggest ethnic group, accounting for about nine percent of the population, and Shan State covers a vast area of northeastern Myanmar.

    The country, which is slowly emerging from decades of military rule, is the world's second-largest opium poppy grower after Afghanistan.



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