UNODC REP IGNORES ‘YA BA’ by Professor Desmond Ball Strategic and Defence Studies Centre ANU

The letter by Gary Lewis from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in PostBag last Sunday, written in regard to a Spectrum article the previous week, is palpably disingenuous. Let me make four points. First, Mr Lewis notes that the elimination of poppy crops in 2011 occurred mainly in areas subject to ceasefire agreements. This is hardly surprising. For more than a decade, more than 95% of drug production in Myanmar has been in ceasefire areas. Indeed, implicit in the ceasefire agreements, beginning with the agreement with the United Wa State Army in 1989, has been the right to essentially untrammeled drug production with appropriate payments to Myanmar army officers and other officials who have expedited the trafficking.

Second, Mr Lewis neglects to point out that while opium production in Myanmar decreased from 1996 to 2006, there was an enormous surge in the production of methamphetamines (ya ba) during this period. Many of the chemists and laboratory facilities previously used for the conversion of opium into heroin were re-employed in the production of ya ba, making Myanmar the largest producer of methamphetamines in the world. By 1998, the annual flow of ya ba into Thailand had reached around 600 million tablets a year. Over the next decade, it averaged around 800 million tablets a year. In 2010, it reached nearly one billion tablets.

Counting both opium/heroin and methamphetamine production, Myanmar can fairly be called the largest producer of illegal narcotics in the world. The UNODC reported in November 2011 that no methamphetamine manufacturing facility in Myanmar has ever been seized. However, there is not a single mention of methamphetamine production in Mr Lewis’ letter.

Third, Mr Lewis fails to note that opium production has in fact increased in the last few years. Myanmar produced an estimated 610 tonnes of opium in 2011. The elimination efforts that he applauds managed to destroy about 5% of this amount. On the other hand, the area under poppy cultivation increased by about 10%, according to the UNODC’s own statistics, while opium productivity per hectare also increased. At this rate of ”elimination”, we can expect opium production to increase by another 50% by 2020.

Fourth, Mr Lewis commends President Thein Sein for the recent elimination efforts, but fails to mention that Thein Sein was the commander of the Triangle Command in the northeast corner of Myanmar, the heartland of the country’s drug production, from 1997 to 2001, when methamphetamines from Myanmar flooded the region.  panglong news

Professor Desmond Ball
Strategic and Defence Studies Centre
Australian National University

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