Drug trafficking surging in year since Myanmar coup

Authorities in Laos, Thailand and Myanmar seized at least 90
million methamphetamine tablets and 4.4 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine last
month, most of it manufactured in the remote border areas of Myanmar’s Shan
State, according to the UNODC.

“Meth production increased last year from already extreme
levels in Myanmar and there is no sign it will slow down,” said Jeremy Douglas,
UNODC’s regional representative in Southeast Asia.

“Drugs and conflict remain inseparable in Myanmar, one
feeding the other,” he said, adding: “Chaos and instability work for

Economic hardship has gripped Myanmar since the coup and Douglas
said farmers without options in Shan State were likely to return to opium
cultivation in the near- to medium-term.

In neighbouring Thailand, a traditional conduit for illicit
drugs produced in Myanmar, 520 million methamphetamine tablets were seized in
2021, up from 361 million in 2020, according to data from its Office of
Narcotics Control Board (ONCB).

Crystal meth seizures decreased by 22% to 21.6 tonnes compared
with 2020 but were still significantly higher than the 18.2 tonnes intercepted
by authorities in 2019.

Drug production in the Golden Triangle, as the area
encompassing northern Myanmar and parts of Laos and Thailand is known, is run
by Asian crime gangs in partnership with armed factions from some of Myanmar’s
ethnic minorities.

The illicit drugs they manufacture dominate the Asia-Pacific
market, UNODC has found.

Amid the chaos and civil unrest in Myanmar that followed the
coup, some of the ethnic minority factions involved in the drug trade have
expanded their territory, analysts and officials told Reuters.

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In recent weeks, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) – one of
Myanmar best-armed ethnic minority forces that controls large areas from the
north of Shan State – has moved forces south along with smaller, allied
militias, expanding their territorial control of the state, three sources
familiar with the incursions said.

Territory controlled by the UWSA has long been used for
illicit drug production, although other armed groups are also involved in the
trade, Douglas said.

A spokesman for the UWSA and a spokesman for Myanmar’s ruling
military could not immediately be reached for comment.

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