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Maynamar and Drugs

The Golden Triangle is one of the world's major opium-cultivation and heroin-producing areas. This is a 150,000-square-mile, mountainous area located where the borders of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand meet . Although there is a geographical region promoted by the tourism industry as the Golden Triangle where the Mekong River flows through the three countries, when it comes to drug production and trafficking activities, the territory covers a much larger area including most border regions between Thailand and Myanmar and between China and Myanmar.

It was estimated that, in the late 1990s, Myanmar produced more than 50 percent of the world's raw opium and refined as much as 75 percent of the world's heroin. For most of the 1990s, the Golden Triangle enjoyed an infamous reputation as the "breadbasket" of the world's heroin trade. Myanmar has also become a main source of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) in Asia, producing hundreds of millions of methamphetamine tablets annually by the late 1990s.

The major opium- and heroin-producing area in Myanmar is located in the Shan State, which is occupied by various ethnic armed groups. The Shan State was the base of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) before it collapsed in 1989. According to Burmese authorities, the CPB, which was bankrolled by China as well as supported by various non-Burmese ethnic groups, was the major threat to their regime. After the disintegration of the CPB, the Burmese regime arranged cease-fire agreements with various former CPB groups in the Shan State. The ethnic groups promised not to fight against the Burmese government and, in return, the Burmese authorities allowed these ethnic groups to keep their armed forces and to stay involved in the opium trade. The areas associated with the three armed groups believed to be heavily involved in the drug trade are: the Kokang Area or the No. 1 Special Zone, the Wa Area or the No. 2 Special Zone, and the Mengla Area or the No. 4 Special Zone.

US sources estimate that Myanmar's opium production rose from 1,250 metric tons in 1988 to 2,450 metric tons the following year and continued to increase thereafter, to 2,600 metric tons in 1997. As the relationship improved between the Burmese authorities and the ethnic groups in the Shan State, more and more money from the drug trade poured into legitimate business and fueled the expansion of the Burmese economy.

Before the mid-1980s, heroin produced in the Golden Triangle was mostly smuggled into Thailand overland and then to Hong Kong on Thai fishing trawlers before being transported to the United States, Europe, and Australia. Hong Kong was, and still is, the organizational and financial center for the region's heroin trade. However, rapid expansionin commerce and population migration inside China beginning in the late 1970s as a result of the nation's economic development opened up the cross-border drug trade along the Myanmar-China border.

Historically, most of the world's illicit opium for heroin has been grown in the Golden Triangle of Southeast Asia. However, over the last decade, opium production in the Golden Triangle has declined while cultivation and production rates in Southwest Asia have increased considerably. In 2010, Afghanistan, as the world's largest opium supplier, accounted for nearly 80 percent of the world's opium, according to UN estimates.

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Page last modified: 08-10-2011 12:16:35 ZULU