Monday, February 2, 2009

Burma’s Drugs Trade Unaffected by Global Slowdown

The Irrawaddy News

A series of recent raids in Rangoon has again thrown the spotlight on the narcotics trade and the roles played by high profile businessmen and members of the Burmese military regime.

In one raid, two weeks ago, at least 28 kilograms of heroin were found in a container on the Singaporean-flagged ship Kota Tegap, which was docked at Rangoon's Asia World Port Terminal.

The terminal is owned by Tun Myint Naing, the son of former drug kingpin and militia leader Lo Hsing Han, whose name is on the US Treasury Department sanctions list. The container, which was bound for Singapore, is reportedly owned by the Myanmar Timber Enterprise, a government-owned business that is also on the US sanctions list.

Sources in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy that in a subsequent sting operation, the anti-narcotics police force also discovered another large cache of heroin in FMI City, an upscale residential area in the city’s Hlaing Tharyar Township, and arrested Kyaw Kyaw Min, a crab exporter in Bogalay Township, Irrawaddy Division, for attempting to smuggle 32 kilograms of heroin out of the country aboard a container ship.

The police special intelligence department, known as the Special Branch, is now questioning the port employees, high-ranking government officials and prominent businessmen in connection with the case.

Unconfirmed reports said that the owner of Rangoon's popular club BME, a Kachin-Chinese businessman, known as Hsaio Haw, who has close links with leaders of the infamous United Wa State Army, is implicated, together with some family members of the Burmese ruling generals.

The case follows the leveling of charges against Maung Weik, one of the richest men in Burma and a powerful friend of the country’s ruling military elite, and his associate, Aung Zaw Ye Myint, son of the chief of the Bureau of Special Operations No. 1, Lt- Gen Ye Myint, for drug abuse and involvement in trafficking.

Burma uses the occasion of the annual International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking to announce drug seizure statistics and to expose offenders. But high-profile cases are never publicized.

At the governmental level, Burma emphasizes its engagement with such neighbors as China, India and Thailand in efforts to control drug trafficking, and its implementation of a 15-year plan (1999-2014) to totally eradicate poppy growing in three phases, each running for five years. (JEG's: but it is going unnoticed into Singapore's hub... so much for SP's honesty)

The drugs, however, continue to flow across Burma’s borders in all directions. Tough suppression campaigns by neighboring countries such as Thailand and China have led to drug traffickers turning increasingly to maritime routes to smuggle drugs out of Burma.

According to a report by Washington-based Radio Free Asia, Interpol in Singapore asked the Burmese police to seize the Singapore-flagged ship at the Asia World Port Terminal. Without the intervention of Interpol, it’s unlikely that the authorities would deal effectively with the problem.

At a news conference last year, the US Assistant Secretary of State for International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement, David Johnson, charged that the military government has done little to deal with what has become Asia’s largest illegal drug industry.

“Their efforts to reduce demand, interdict drug shipments and combat corruption and money laundering continue to be lackluster,” he said.

In their book "Merchants of Madness," Bertil Lintner, one of the most-respected analysts of Burma's drugs trade, and Michael Black, a security writer with Jane's Intelligence Review, have also noted that Burma's production of illicit drugs such as methamphetamines and heroin could not proceed without at least the involvement, if not active participation, of the Burmese military rulers.

It’s a bitter irony—while Burma’s exports such as rice, teak, beans, rubber and palm oil have obviously suffered from the falloff in trade due to the global economic slowdown, the demand for Burmese-produced drugs, an export that doesn’t figure in the national income accounting, is still buoyant.

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