YAGNGON, MYANMAR — In an ostentatious display against drug abuse, Myanmar’s junta authorities incinerated narcotics worth almost half a billion dollars on Monday, but cautioned that this measure was far from curbing the steep incline in drug production and trafficking.
High stacks of heroin, cannabis, meth, and opium were set ablaze in Yangon, Myanmar’s economic capital, according to AFP reporters. The event marked the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
Simultaneous televised burnings occurred across the country, with a total value of US$446 million in narcotics reduced to ashes, as per junta officials. However, Soe Htut, the head of Myanmar’s Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control, conveyed a bleak reality. In an unusual confession, he revealed that their attempts to curtail the booming drug trade were proving futile.
“Despite numerous arrests and prosecutions of drug abusers, producers, traffickers, and cartels, drug production and trafficking have remained unaffected,” Soe Htut told the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
The infamous “Golden Triangle,” the border region shared by Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand, has been notorious for illegal drug production and trafficking, especially meth and opium.
This area encompasses Myanmar’s Shan state, recognized by the UN as Southeast Asia’s principal source of meth. It harbors an array of ethnic rebel factions and militias in cahoots with the country’s army.
Critics argue that the military, which overthrew an elected government in 2021, is not genuinely committed to halting this profitable trade. Independent analyst David Mathieson told AFP, “The army has long been the ultimate protector of the trade.”
This event followed the United Nations’ report of record seizures of crystal meth in Myanmar last year.
The UN also noted an uptick in opium poppy farming catalyzed by the instability following the coup. Over 23 tons of crystal meth were confiscated in Myanmar in 2022, as reported by the UN’s Office on Drugs and Crime.
The same office disclosed in January a surge in opium poppy production in Myanmar, spurred by political and economic chaos. The land used for poppy cultivation has expanded to over 40,000 hectares, equivalent to half the size of New York City. The opium output has almost doubled since the military coup two years ago, reversing a trend of decline.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime found an 88% leap in potential opium production to 790 metric tons in 2022, up from 400 metric tons in 2020. Poppy cultivation expanded by 33% to more than 40,000 hectares.
Responding to these findings, Nay Phone Latt, the spokesman of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, insinuated that junta chief Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has little motivation to regulate opium production because “he and his family members are enjoying the benefits of the drug trade.”
Opium cultivation for heroin production, although technically illegal in Myanmar, has often been overlooked or even taxed by corrupt officials in the Myanmar military, the Myanmar Police Force, and rebel ethnic armies.