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Homeland Security

Press conference by executive of United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

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

10 October 2007

While opium production had almost been eradicated in South-East Asia over the past decades, its cultivation had surged last year in Myanmar, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said this afternoon at a Headquarters press conference.

“The situation in Myanmar, from the vantage point of opium, is extremely alarming,” Mr. Costa said as he launched the latest periodic report on poppy cultivation in the so-called Golden Triangle where the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Thailand meet. “The increase this year may be a single 12-month experience, it may be a sign of something changing structurally. It’s too early to say,” he added.

Thailand had been opium-free for well over 10 years and production in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was down to only 8,000 hectares, he said. 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 were 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 was also extremely worrying, he said. As a result, the distribution of drug income had shifted from poor farmers, who produced opium, to criminal groups that included corrupt officials and drug barons. To counteract both trends UNODC was calling on the Government to strengthen its control over all its territory and to take action against corruption. The international community was also asked to help farmers find alternative ways to generate income.

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 staunch production. It was 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 -- $450 million -– was one tenth the value of the opium trade from Afghanistan. In addition, the areas of production in Myanmar were not close to the borders of either India or China. However, those countries and others in the region were asked to help control the chemicals used to produce methamphetamines and to refine opium.

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For information media • not an official record

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