Myanmar opium trade flourishing: Rebel chief
Shan State Army's supremo rejected UN studies suggesting opium poppy cultivation in the world's second largest heroin producer was falling.Updated: Jan 30, 2006 10:50 IST
The heroin trade is burgeoning in Myanmar's Golden Triangle, a reality hidden from the international community by the lies and cunning of the former Burma's military junta, a top rebel leader said.
In an interview with the agency in his jungle hideout on the Thai-Myanmar border, Shan State Army (SSA) supremo Colonel Yod Suk rejected UN studies suggesting opium poppy cultivation in the world's second largest heroin producer was falling.
"The UN trips are very limited. They have not seen the grass roots. They are stopped by the Burmese soldiers from getting the correct information," said the bespectacled 48-year-old ethnic guerrilla leader, whose name means "Warlord".
"They were guided and only went to the clean places where there were no drugs," he said last week on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the SSA's split from the opium-fuelled Mong Tai Army of infamous Golden Triangle drug lord Khun Sa.
Despite a $2 million US bounty on his head, Khun Sa is now thought to be living a life of luxury in Yangon, having struck a deal a decade ago with Myanmar's State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), the junta's official name.
"I don't think it's decreasing. There are poppies everywhere -- in places where there were no poppies when we were young. The opium trade is still flourishing. Those who say it is decreasing are blinded by the SPDC," Yod Suk said.
To back up his claims, he showed SSA video footage of dozens of poppy fields in central and northern Shan State.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has estimated overall poppy cultivation in 2005 at 32,800 hectares (81,000 acres), down from 160,000 hectares in 1999 when the junta launched a campaign to eradicate opium by 2014.
While declaring a strong opposition to narcotics, Yod Suk admitted some in his 10,000-strong guerrilla army, which has been accused of involvement in heroin trafficking, might still be dabbling in the trade in Myanmar's wild, mountainous east.
"Opium has been in the Golden Triangle for a long time -- that means the Shan State. And the SSA is formed by Shan State people, so maybe, partially, some people will be involved," he said.
However, he said the blame for Myanmar ranking behind only Afghanistan in the production of opium -- the raw material for heroin -- lay firmly at the doors of the military, which has run the formerly British-ruled country under various guises since a 1962 coup.
"If the SPDC left Shan State, we could eradicate opium in 10 years. But now, it's more important to drive out the enemy. The opium eradication will be second," he said.
Besides heroin, the lawless region is also becoming infamous for industrial-scale production of methamphetamine, or "yaba" -- the "crazy drug" as it is known in Thai.
However, Yod Suk said ethnic militias such as the Wa, a wild semi-Chinese ethnic group whose penchant for headhunting tailed off only in the 1970s, played a subordinate in the yaba trade to Yangon's generals.
"Very few people have the knowledge to produce yaba," he said. "The common Wa are too ignorant to make it. They are just standing guard and taking some of the benefits. The businessmen take the main profits."
First Published: Jan 30, 2006 10:50 IST