UN tells Burma to cut heroin supply
GREG TORODE in Hanoi
The United Nations' top anti-drugs authority has served notice on Burma's military regime that it expects substantial reductions in the country's heroin production.
The annual report of the UN International Narcotics Control Board warned yesterday that Burma was still one of the world's largest opium producers and heroin suppliers.
The report noted the surrender of drug lord Khun Sa and his ethnic Mong Tai forces and resulting raids on 11 heroin refineries in Burma's eastern Shan state.
'The board expects that these events will enable the Government of Burma to substantially reduce the illicit heroin manufacture in the country,' it said.
No reliable estimates existed of the amount of opium still grown in Burma following Khun Sa's surrender.
Khun Sa is now reportedly engaged in private business in Rangoon and maintains close ties to the ruling junta.
US diplomats, keen to extradite him on drug conspiracy charges, believe production continues apace and new refineries have been set up, including several in Mandalay, Burma's second city.
The trade is fuelled by deepening peace-time ties between Burma and traders in southern China who have easy access to chemicals which are crucial for turning opium into heroin.
Other former refineries in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam are now being converted to making amphetamines for the region's burgeoning middle class.
The report warned that a rapidly changing situation in the Golden Triangle between Burma, Laos and Thailand was forcing smugglers to create new routes through China and Vietnam.
Despite a heroin shortage in Thailand, opium production was still running at about 140 tonnes a year in neighbouring Laos.
The report warned that in several countries in the region, opium smoking was being replaced by the more dangerous injecting of heroin.
More international co-operation was vital in tackling the drugs trade.
The report urged anti-drug police to root out corruption and concentrate on the 'Mr Bigs' of the trade instead of getting bogged down in arrests at street level.
It also said governments had to recognise and tackle the problem of corruption among police, politicians and Customs officials.