Myanmar reports progress in opium destruction

AP News
Posted: Mar 07, 2011 6:03 AM
Myanmar reports progress in opium destruction

Authorities in Myanmar said they have eradicated about one-sixth of the country's opium growing fields in the most recent growing season as part of a plan by the ruling junta to eliminate the illicit drug.

The state-run Myanma Ahlin newspaper said Monday that several hundred acres (hectares) of opium were destroyed in the last week of February alone _ part of a total of 15,000 acres (6,000 hectares) of opium that has been eliminated.

Afghanistan supplies more than 90 percent of the world's opium, the raw ingredient used to make heroin, with 300,000 acres (120,000 hectares) of the crop planted last year, according to the U.N. Myanmar is distant second with less than a third of that land being used to grow poppies in the country.

Opium cultivation in Myanmar has dropped from more then 400,000 acres (160,000 hectares) in 1996 to a little more than 50,000 acres (20,000 hectares) in 2006, but has been inching up since.

The ruling junta has vowed to eliminate the drug by 2014. In highly publicized ceremonies, it destroyed more than 11 tons (10 metric tons) of illicit drugs _ over $76 million worth _ in four different places around the country last year.

However, the United States has raised doubts about its drug elimination campaign.

The U.S. State Department's annual International Narcotics Control Strategy Report says Myanmar's anti-drug agency is trying to suppress the trade but does not have full government backing.

It says drug enforcement was a secondary priority in the government's dealings with ethnic minority groups, many of which have their own armed militias controlling large areas of territory along the country's borders, where much of the drug is grown.

The report says the government "often sacrificed drug control, allowing armed ethnic groups to engage in drug trafficking in return for cooperation in other areas."

According to the report, corruption linked to drug trafficking among midlevel civilian and military officials "was likely significant."