January 29, 2006

Myanmar opium trade flourishing, says rebel chief

By Ed Cropley

DOI TAILANG, Myanmar (Reuters) - The heroin trade is
burgeoning in Myanmar's Golden Triangle, a reality hidden from
the international community by the lies and cunning of the
former Burma's military junta, a top rebel leader said.

In an interview with Reuters in his jungle hideout on the
Thai-Myanmar border, Shan State Army (SSA) supremo Colonel Yod
Suk rejected U.N. studies suggesting opium poppy cultivation in
the world's second largest heroin producer was falling.

"The U.N. trips are very limited. They have not seen the
grass roots. They are stopped by the Burmese soldiers from
getting the correct information," said the bespectacled
48-year-old ethnic guerrilla leader, whose name means

"They were guided and only went to the clean places where
there were no drugs," he said last week on the eve of the 10th
anniversary of the SSA's split from the opium-fuelled Mong Tai
Army of infamous Golden Triangle drug lord Khun Sa.

Despite a $2 million U.S. bounty on his head, Khun Sa is
now thought to be living a life of luxury in Yangon, having
struck a deal a decade ago with Myanmar's State Peace and
Development Council (SPDC), the junta's official name.

"I don't think it's decreasing. There are poppies
everywhere -- in places where there were no poppies when we
were young. The opium trade is still flourishing. Those who say
it is decreasing are blinded by the SPDC," Yod Suk said.

To back up his claims, he showed SSA video footage of
dozens of poppy fields in central and northern Shan State.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has
estimated overall poppy cultivation in 2005 at 32,800 hectares
(81,000 acres), down from 160,000 hectares in 1999 when the
junta launched a campaign to eradicate opium by 2014.


While declaring a strong opposition to narcotics, Yod Suk
admitted some in his 10,000-strong guerrilla army, which has
been accused of involvement in heroin trafficking, might still
be dabbling in the trade in Myanmar's wild, mountainous east.

"Opium has been in the Golden Triangle for a long time --
that means the Shan State. And the SSA is formed by Shan State
people, so maybe, partially, some people will be involved," he

However, he said the blame for Myanmar ranking behind only
Afghanistan in the production of opium -- the raw material for
heroin -- lay firmly at the doors of the military, which has
run the formerly British-ruled country under various guises
since a 1962 coup.

"If the SPDC left Shan State, we could eradicate opium in
10 years. But now, it's more important to drive out the enemy.
The opium eradication will be second," he said.

Besides heroin, the lawless region is also becoming
infamous for industrial-scale production of methamphetamine, or
"yaba" -- the "crazy drug" as it is known in Thai.

However, Yod Suk said ethnic militias such as the Wa, a
wild semi-Chinese ethnic group whose penchant for headhunting
tailed off only in the 1970s, played a subordinate in the yaba
trade to Yangon's generals.

"Very few people have the knowledge to produce yaba," he
said. "The common Wa are too ignorant to make it. They are just
standing guard and taking some of the benefits. The businessmen
take the main profits."