Myanmar opium trade not financing insurgents: UN
United Nations (PTI): A United Nations agency has rejected a suggestion that profit earned from illicit opium trade in Myanmar is being used to finance insurgents in India's northeast.
"That is not possible logistically. The United Nations Office for Drug and Crime (UNODC) has not received any such report," UNODC executive director Antonio Maria Casta said while replying to a question here on Wednesday.
Releasing a report on opium production, he said Myanmar has become the second largest opium producer in the world after Afghanistan as area under cultivation there rose by 29 per cent and production by 46 per cent last year.
But in terms of value, Myanmar produces one-tenth of the opium grown in Afghanistan.
Costa said the production is concentrated in eastern part of the country where insurgent groups rule and government's writ does not run, thus absolving the military administration of having any hand in it.
Asked whether the current unrest in Myanmar is responsible for the increase in production, Costa said there appears to be no such link. The decades-long eradication drive, he said, has slashed opium production in South-East Asia except in the case of Myanmar.
While the so-called Golden Triangle comprising Laos, Myanmar and Thailand is no longer a major supplier of opium, the situation in Myanmar is "extremely alarming," he said.
Thailand has been opium-free for almost 20 years and Laos has cut opium production by 94 per cent in less than a decade, according to the report.
It is also important for the international community to assist farmers so they can find alternative sources of income and thus abandon opium production, the UN official added.
Myanmar's cultivation had also been shrinking steadily between 1998 and 2006, but last year it had moved in the opposite direction, increasing by 29 per cent -- almost a third -- from 21,500 to 27,700 hectares.
As in Afghanistan, he said, Myanmar's opium was highly concentrated in one area, the South and East Shan states, where a variety of insurgent groups are operating.
All those groups had previously committed themselves to countering opium production, but they had also used opium profits at various times to buy weapons and provisions.
At the same time, the rise of methamphetamine production in the country is also extremely worrying, he said.
As a result, the distribution of drug income has shifted from poor farmers, who produced opium, to criminal groups that included corrupt officials and drug barons. To counteract both trends UNODC called on the Government to strengthen its control over all its territory and to take action against corruption.
Questioned about the possible causes of the surge in Myanmar's opium cultivation, he said it could be that the insurgent groups had become more active and were reneging on their agreements to help end production.
It is also possible that the Government had less control than before. The export of opium also pointed to either corruption, neglect or both on the Government's part.
Asked to put the problem in the regional context, he explained that the value of the opium produced USD 450 million - was one tenth the value of the opium trade from Afghanistan.