Myanmar torches drugs worth nearly US$60 million

Drugs seized by Myanmar are destroyed during an event to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse, outside Yangon, on June 26, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar police on Sunday (June 26) torched drugs with a street value of nearly US$60 million (S$81 million) as authorities struggle to tackle the scourge of poppy cultivation and shut down pill laboratories in lawless border zones.

The impoverished nation remains the world's second biggest producer of opium from which heroin is made, according to the United Nations.

Decades of corrupt military rule and continuing civil wars with ethnic rebels are blamed for fuelling the drugs trade.

To mark the UN's annual anti-drugs day, seized drugs and precursor chemicals were burnt in three places across Myanmar.

Over half a tonne of opium and 80kg of heroin was torched along with 768kg of methamphetamines and 10 million other stimulant pills, a police official told AFP, adding the haul was worth around US$57 million.

At a ceremony in the capital Naypyidaw, Vice-President Myint Swe conceded the battle to stem drug production was far from being won.

"People in very remote rural areas are trafficking drugs and cultivating poppies for a living," he said urging greater development for the poor and conflict-hit border areas.

"Once we have development and success in the local peace process, our drugs control process will strengthen."

The government led by Aung San Suu Kyi's pro-democracy party has a massive popular mandate following elections in November.

She has promised efforts to end several simmering insurgencies.

But the government's writ currently does not extend to many border areas where drug production is rampant.

Both rebels and the Myanmar army are accused of buying weapons with drugs produced in the so-called Golden Triangle, a zone around the intersection of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.

While the heroin trade is worth billions of dollars to cross-border narcotics syndicates, opium farmers scratch a living at the bottom of the drug chain.

A report released by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said farmers in Myanmar's poppy-growing villages make less money than other rural communities.

The struggle by villagers to make ends meet rather than greed was prompting the illicit cultivation, it added.

According to the UN, global opium production plunged almost 40 percent last year but the drug remains easily accessible due to a supply glut.

Asia remains the world's largest market for opiates, accounting for an estimated two- thirds of all users, with Myanmar producing 14 per cent of the world's opium.

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