Myanmar torches over half-billion dollar drugs stash

A burning pile of seized illegal drugs during a destruction ceremony to mark the United Nations' "International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking" in Yangon on June 26, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar authorities torched over half a billion dollars worth of narcotics across the country on Saturday (June 26), sending opium, heroin and methamphetamine up in smoke as experts warn that smugglers have adapted to Covid-19 travel restrictions and are back in business.

Sacks of green-brown cannabis were stacked high at a compound in the commercial capital Yangon, alongside bin-liner-sized bags of red-pink pills, marking one of Myanmar's offerings for the annual World Drug Day burning.

Slabs of heroin, bags of ketamine and tramadol and Ice were also laid out on the pyre.

Stashes were also burned at ceremonies held in Mandalay and Taunggyi in Shan State, Myanmar's anti-drugs police department said.

A total of just under US$668 million (S$897 million) of narcotics, including 224 million meth tablets, were torched in the three cities.

As a woman barked a command over a loudspeaker in Yangon, four men in military uniform pressed buttons on tables in front of them, and the stash went up, flames licking the early morning sky.

Firefighters stood ready and well back from the noxious smoke.

Despite Covid-19 travel restrictions, there has been an "overall sustained expansion of the methamphetamine market in East and South-east Asia", the UN said earlier this month.

Myanmar's troubled Shan State remains the main source of the drug, it added, which is often smuggled on to wealthier overseas markets such as Australia and Japan in its more potent crystallised form.

The body has warned of an even bigger deluge as Myanmar's legal economy tanks, following weeks of nationwide unrest and strike action following the military takeover.

The Golden Triangle, traversing the Myanmar, Laos and Thailand frontiers, has for decades been the hub of South-east Asia's lucrative drug trade.

Myanmar's poppy-covered hills provide an ideal location for illicit labs, with a largely unchecked supply of precursor chemicals flooding in from China.

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