24 March 2013. Opium, its derivative heroin and methamphetamines are surging across Myanmar’s borders in quantities that the United Nations and police in neighboring countries are dismayed. The civilian government now in power for two years has been struggling to get a foothold in the war against drugs. The trade is concentrated in the remote impoverished areas where the government has little control, where ethnic armies have waged wars for decades. The wars were finance to with drug money. President Thein Sein has signed a ceasefire agreement with the rebel groups in the region but the peace is extremely fragile and sporadic fighting continues. Arresting poor opium farmers risks alienation of ethnic groups.
Col. Myint Thein, head of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse and Control, said that to sole the drug problem there must be peace in the region.
Almost everyone in Thon Min Yar is an opium farmer. This is a remote village that does not even appear in the map. Its 73 bamboo huts have no electricity or running water. Its people have no access to health care, no job prospects, not enough food and no aspirations other than survival. Toddlers and teens get all education in one room schoolhouse.
An average opium farmer will earn about $1000 in a year in an acre of farmland. But he has to pay bribe to the police, army and ethnic armies.
The Golden Triangle is the area where Shan state meets borders of Thailand and Laos. It was the world’s top producer of opium for years but in 1990s Afghanistan became the top producer and drug syndicates here began focusing more on methamphetamines.
Most of Myanmar’s drugs are trafficked through its porous 1,100-kilometer (680-mile) border with Thailand.
The drugs that exit the Golden Triangle ripple out across all of Asia, which is why Myanmar is seeking the world’s help. “This is not just Myanmar’s concern. The whole international community should cooperate in eliminating the drug problem,” said Myint Thein, the anti-drug official. “We cannot afford it alone.”
UN and the government want the farmers to switch to cash crops. A farmer earns about $ 3,500 a year on a five month poppy season. But switching to cash crop the same farmer could earn only $500 working year-round rotating crops corn, sunflower and potatoes.
Read more: The Wichita Eagle – Rising drug trade threatens Myanmar’s aspirations