Myanmar burns $446m worth of seized drugs as illicit trade soars in Southeast Asia

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar authorities destroyed more than $446 million worth of illegal drugs seized across the country to mark an annual international day against drug trafficking on Monday, police said.

The drug abuse came as UN experts warned of rising production of opium, heroin and methamphetamine in Myanmar, with exports threatening to expand markets in South Asia and South East.

Myanmar has a long history of drug production linked to political and economic insecurity caused by decades of armed conflict. The country is a major producer and exporter of methamphetamine and the world’s second largest producer of opium and heroin after Afghanistan, despite repeated attempts to promote legal alternative crops to poor farmers.

In the country’s largest city, Yangon, a pile of seized drugs and precursor chemicals worth $207 million was incinerated. Drugs destroyed included opium, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, kratom, ketamine and crystal meth, also known as ice.

The burn coincided with the United Nations International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

Authorities also destroyed drugs in the central city of Mandalay and Taunggyi, the capital of eastern Shan state, both closer to major drug production and distribution areas.

Last year, authorities burned a total of more than $642 million in seized drugs.

Experts have warned that violent political unrest in Myanmar following the military takeover two years ago – which now amounts to a civil war between the military government and its pro-democracy opponents – has caused an increase of drug production.

Opium production in Myanmar has boomed since the military took over, with poppy cultivation rising by a third in the past year as eradication efforts plummeted and the economy faltering has pushed more people into the drug trade, according to a report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime earlier this year.

Opium production estimates were 400 metric tons (440 tons) in 2020, increasing slightly in 2021, then peaking in 2022 to around 790 metric tons (870 tons), according to the report.

The UN agency also warned of a huge increase in methamphetamine production in recent years, driving down prices and reaching markets through new smuggling routes.

The military government claims that some ethnic armed organizations that control large swaths of remote territory produce illicit drugs to finance their insurgencies and do not cooperate with the country’s peace process as they do not wish to give up the benefits they derive from the drug trade. Drugs. Historically, some rebellious ethnic groups have also used drug profits to fund their struggle for greater autonomy from the central government.

Most of the opium and heroin exported by Myanmar, as well as methamphetamine, are destined for other Southeast Asian countries and China.

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