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PRESS BRIEFING BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, UN OFFICE ON DRUGS AND CRIME

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

18 June 2003

The Myanmar and Lao People’s Democratic Republic Opium Surveys for 2003 confirm the downward trend in opium cultivation in the “Golden Triangle” (which also includes Thailand), Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), stated this afternoon at the launch of the surveys at Headquarters.

Mr. Costa was joined by Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the UNODC Representative in Myanmar. Within a few years, stated Mr. Costa, it might be possible to close a painful chapter of illicit drug production in that part of the world. Thailand, he noted, had already been certified “opium free” several years ago by the United Nations. Opium cultivation in Myanmar and Lao People’s Democratic Republic had declined by 22 per cent since 2002, and by 60 per cent since 1996. The total amount of cultivation in both countries collectively was about 74,000 hectares.

In Myanmar, he said, the harvest for 2003 was estimated to be 62,000 hectares –- about a 24 per cent decline from 2002. The largest part of the decline was in the northern part of the country, with about a 50 per cent decline in the state of Shan. Regarding price trends, he said that the price today was around $120 per kilo, which was nothing compared to Afghanistan, where the price was about $550 per kilo.

That was partly due, he continued, to the belief that the opium from Afghanistan was of better quality. The basic difference between Afghanistan and Myanmar had to do with the “risk/reward” relationship. In Afghanistan, there were very high prices for opium and virtually no risk for its cultivation because of the inability, for the time being, of the central authorities to enforce the ban on cultivation. In Myanmar, there was a commitment at both the central and local levels to enforce the ban.

Turning to Lao People’s Democratic Republic, he said there were currently 12,000 hectares under cultivation, which represented about a 15 per cent decline since 2002. Due to weather conditions, there was a slight increase in opium production.

Responding to questions, Mr. Costa attributed the decline to the commitment not only of the central Government but also of local communities, provinces and townships. Also important were alternative cultivation and efforts to reduce food shortages. One of the main reasons farmers had been cultivating opium was the revenue generated by it. Efforts by United Nations agencies to improve the food situation had reduced the motivation to cultivate opium.

Rice shortages, said Mr. Lemahieu, were the principal reason for opium cultivation in Myanmar. Doubling the rice production was often sufficient to remove the incentive for opium cultivation.

Asked about the connection between the decline in opium cultivation and the increase in the production of synthetic drugs, Mr. Costa said that within the next five or six weeks, UNODC would be presenting the first worldwide survey on synthetic drugs. At that time, it would be possible to certify that while there was a decline in opium cultivation in Shan state, there was, at the same time, an increase in the manufacture of synthetic drugs. To a large extent, opium production was motivated by the poverty of farmers. Synthetic drug production, meanwhile, was motivated by the greed of traffickers.

As to how the political situation in Myanmar might affect the drive to eliminate opium cultivation, Mr. Costa noted that the UNODC was operating in Myanmar with resources made available by Member States, including those that opposed the political situation in that country. Activities in the fields of HIV/AIDS, food shortages and the fight against narcotics were supported by everyone.

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