Burma junta claims anti-drug success
Rangoon - The Burmese military regime - marking International Day Against Drug Abuse on Monday with a 148 million dollar drugs bonfire - claimed that the country was on track to be completely drugs-free by 2014.
Interior Minister Major General Maung Oo, presiding over the destruction of 148.4 million dollars worth of seized opium, heroin, marijuana and other drugs, claimed the regime destroyed 10,250 acres of opium last year and was weaning opium farmers from growing the illicit crop through crop-substitution programmes.
"The whole nation will be drugs-free by 2014 whether foreign assistance is obtained or not," said Maung Oo, presiding over the drugs-destruction ceremony in Rangoon.
Less than a decade ago Burma was the world's largest producer of opium, and the leading exporter of its derivative heroin.
Burma's ruling junta has vowed to eradicate opium cultivation nationwide by the year 2014. A crop-substitution programme, run by the United Nations, is one of the few development programmes to have received foreign assistance in the country, which remains a pariah abroad despite its drug-eradication efforts.
Most international organizations and western democracies ended their aid programmes to Burma in the wake of a bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 that left thousands of protestors dead.
While most anti-narcotics organizations acknowledge that Burma has made progress in cracking down on opium cultivation, the country is still deemed a major producer of methamphetamines.
Maung Oo, who is also chairman of the Central Committee for Drug Control, noted that local heroin prices had jumped 14 times between 2001 and 2006, opium prices had quadrupled while methamphetamine prices have shot up 12 times.
"Prices are high, so public awareness is heightened," said Maung Oo. "With cooperation of neighbouring countries precursor (chemicals) routes have been tightened...The situation is not threatening. It can be kept under control."