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Shan leaders acknowledge drug scourge in ethnic areas

Eradication of narcotics a priority in peace process with Myanmar

Myanmar's Shan ethnic group has acknowledged that opium production and sales as well as drug addiction have increased in its areas in past years, making eradication of the narcotics trade a priority in the peace process with the government.

"These days, there are many more drug addicts and dealers in most townships of Shan state than five years ago. Younger people have become addicted to drugs day by day," the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) said in a statement.

The latest report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated that poppy cultivation in Myanmar now covered 51,000 hectares, an increase of one-sixth from last year's level of 43,600 hectares and the sixth consecutive year-on-year increase since the low 2006 level of 21,600 hectares.

Total potential opium production in Myanmar this year is 690 tonnes, a 13-per-cent increase from 2011, it said.

Almost half (46 per cent) of poppy-growing villages reported this year that they cultivated opium poppy to gain access to cash, while 45 per cent did so because of the need to buy food. By comparison, the need to buy food was by far the most common reason given (60 per cent) in 2011, the report said.

The UN report mostly focused on opium production, though it also provided some information about users of other narcotics such as heroin and amphetamine-type stimulants or yaba.

The Myanmar government, the RCSS and the UNODC had a tripartite meeting in Tachilek late last month, reaching a nine-point agreement for cooperation to tackle the narcotics problem in Shan state.

They began with a joint needs assessment in the state's townships of Mong Nai and Mong Pan, selecting pilot areas for a crop-substitution project.

The RCSS will keep the local people as well as its members informed about the dangers of drugs, reduction and eventual eradication of opium cultivation, cooperation in the control of drugs and implementation of the crop-substitution project, the council's statement said.

Cooperation to fight against narcotics in Shan state is part of an eight-point agreement reached by the Shan group and central authorities in Nay Pyi Taw for the peace process.

Lt-General Yawd Serk, leader of the Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA), complained previously that the truce had rarely delivered results to local people since the first round of talks began in May.

After this year's ceasefire with the government of President Thein Sein, the RCSS conducted training on the dangers of drugs and opened rehabilitation centres to offer treatment for addicts in RCSS/SSA-controlled areas, the statement said.

Nay Pyi Taw is unlikely to offer concessions in return, Yawd Serk said.


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