Written by U Ne Oo on 2000-03-01

Illicit drug issues in Burma are always controversial. All of us are aware about the controversy surrounding the forced-displacement of WA opium farmers near Thai-Burmese border. Should it be the WA rebel leaders making praders making pre-emptive move to counter possible drug-eradication program? Or more likely, a southward expansion of WA's heroin empire.

On the one hand, there has been a strange silence by the Burmese military government, especially the Office of Strategist Studies (OSS), regarding with production and sales of Amphatemint-Type-Stimulants(ATS). This silence by OSS has heightened our suspicion about General Khin Nyunt's direct involvement in the drug trafficking. In particular, a report last year indicated General Khin Nyunt himKhin Nyunt himself acquired shares in five amphetamine laboratories (see excerpts of Prof. Desmond Ball's report broadcasted last August). There have also been concerns expressed by the Government of Thailand early this year about the ATS production and trafficking by the WA groups (see two Strait Times articles below). The fact usually responsive OSS has been silent on this particular matter may indicate the their own boss - Gen Khin Nyunt -- has been certai been certainly involved in the ATS trafficking.


Observers note that since 1995/96, the increase in production and sale of designer drugs (or) Amphetamine Type Stimulant (ATS) tablets from Burma. As for the heroin production, Burma had been the largest producer until 1997. Since that time, Burma accidentally fell-off from top-spot as the world's greatest opium producer simply because of the bad weather in Shan State and a dramatic increase of opium production in Afghanison in Afghanistan. Burma's druglords seems to have also shifted their focus to exporting the ATS.

In contrast to heroin export, the Burmese drug-lords are targeting these ATS sales to the local market, i.e. Thailand. In selling ATS, the producers appears to keep a closer contact with their wholesale agents in Thailand. In amphetamine production, the return for their investment may also be quicker than that of heroin. As for repatriation of narco-profits, these wholesaler/agents in Thailand and their producer-counr producer-counterparts in Burma do not need cumbersome money transfer and laundering methods: few visits to Casinos across the border may pretty well do the job.


One would have no doubt about Thailand and its ASEAN colleagues have made "Quiet Persuasion" to Burmese junta in recent years to tackle the drug problem. Considering lack of progress, the Thais necessarily changed this type of persuasion to the so-called "Megaphone Diplomacy< Diplomacy" -- openly condemning Burmese junta through international media (see Strait Times reports on 5 & 15 January 2000). Inspite growing disquiet from Thailand, Burma's druglords brazenly continue operating their amphetamine laboratories just across Thai/Burmese border. I was quite surprise to find an amphetamine lab established not far from Mae Sot/Myawadi in a report last year (see Far Eastern Economic Review on 9-September-1999). This must be seen as how the druglords in Burma becomes so confident simply becauseimply because they have put Burmese generals in their pockets.


Like many of Burma democracy supporters and activists, I would in some way indulge myself thinking the international community and Americans in particular would help resolve Burmese issues, provided that it is in their national interests. In addition to human rights and democracy, the illicit drugs from Burma is one possible issues to this end. One needs to note this kind of thinking are made not oare made not only from the pro-democracy camp alone. The SPDC/SLORC itself had several times tried to exploit the drug issue to approach US administration and international community for proper acceptance. The ethnic liberation groups in Shan State in some way also like to use the drug issues as a mean to legitimise themselves in drug-eradication process (Personally, I see nothing wrong about this).

In the wake of last years' INTERPOL Drug Conference in Rangoon, I was led to thinking that the international community has community has an urgency to solve drug problem in Burma. In my view, international community's cooperation with Burmese junta (especially by military assistance) to suppress drug production and sale in Shan State is unacceptable. Whereas several sides (democracy/junta/rebels) appear try to get involved on this issue, I have suggested to the international community and US Government last March (15-Mar-1999 Communication) to initiate aerial-spraying program that could be done with minimal cooperation from Burmese junta. We are aware. We are aware the opium cultivation is labor intensive process and it is most efficient to destroy opium-poppy field on the ground. As for the amphetamine labs (we know where they are), few drops of GPS guided arsenals would do the job. My view is that, should there be any urgency by International Community or Americans to solve drug problems in Burma, they are to help themselves by all means. Nevertheless, this year's opium season had already passed (opium gum were collected Nov/Dec), we could only look forward to next year for next year for such action.


At this point, one could well conclude such thinkings/advocacy about American drug policy may be our own indulgence. On the one hand, such alternative policy is quite necessary in order to prevent the military junta exploiting the drug issues. From outside governments' view also, it will be more efficient, insofar as drug eradication is in concern, to cooperate with junta that is having power. Not all of these advocacy efforts, therefore, are useless in sp useless in spite visible results have we rarely seen.


Though the international community obviously making minimal commitment on solving proper drug problem, they should not fail to counter money laundering in Burma. The USG should make particular efforts to suppress the Burma's druglords establishing links with legitimate business, especially in Burma's neighbouring countries. The money laundering is a very complex and technically sophisticated, and only few international instrument l instrument to cover the matter. However, the effective use of Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Recommendations, Mutual Legal Assistance Treaties(MLATs) combined with diplomatic pressures may make improvement to the money laundering problems in Burma.

We would never know the amount of narco-profit repatriated back to Burma, except that it is substantial. For example, 80% of heroin sold in Australia come from Burma (so too is in US and Canada). In this year, the Australian Police have seized few large consignments of heroinents of heroin. However, for every one consignment seized, quite a few may have escaped from the net since the heroin price in Australia has been as cheap as ever. Hopefully, tracing down of these drug money and suppressing it would help alleviate the drug problems in Burma.

An Australian Federal Police officer has also stationed in Rangoon for six month trial. I particularly do not have a high expectation that the SPDC/SLORC will be meaningfully cooperating with the Australian drug officer. This we still have yet to find oue yet to find out.

With best regards, U Ne Oo.



2. THE STRAIT TIME REPORTS (5/1/2000 & 15/1/2000)

WRITTEN 16-AUG-99, 6:00AM.


I felt almost fallen ill as I read Professor Desmond Ball's recent report on "BURMA AND DRUG: The Regime's Complicity in the Global Drug Trade". The paper make an extremely serious allegation about direct involvement by top SPDC/SLORC officers in heroine trafficking and production and sales of amphetamine-type tablets.


Although there were discussion amongst activist circle about the possible involvement of senior Burmese military officers in drug trade, since the logistics is difficult to all activists, we have never been able to find any concrete evidence. Journalists, on the other hand, do have some resource/connection to find out the possible leads to the junta's trafficking problems. For example, reporters such Mr Bertil Lintner and some from the Geopolitical Drug Watch, over the years, have extensively reported the Burmese military personnel's direct involvement in drug traffickings. Nevertheless, these journalists are considered staunchly anti-junta and pro-democracy and therefore, their testimonta and pro-democracy and therefore, their testimonies has to be treated with proper caution.

Current drug report by Professor Desmond Ball not only comes from academic quarters, but also describe in detail of top military officers involving in drug trade as follows :


"[M]any of the top General in the SLORC/SPDC have benefitted personally and directly from drug trafficking activities. Some such as KHIN NYUNT, have organised their own shares in drug production and movement operations. Others havens. Others have made lucrative deals with various drug gangsters, both those 'retired'in Rangoon and those controlling the operations in the border areas, involving the proceeds from 'money laundering'. The relationship between SENIOR GEN THAN SHWE and Khun Sa is probably of this sort.

The second-in-command of the SPDC, General MAUNG AYE, who is also Commander-in-Chief of the Army, has extensive drug connections. Before he became Vice-Chairman on 31 March 1993 he was commander of the Eastern Commandastern Command, based in Taunggyi, where he commanded one of the main durg production ares. KHIN NYUNT, the No.3 man, probably has the most extensive drug connecitons. AS the chief architect of the ceasefire for opium production exchange agreements with the former insurgent groups, he ensured himself a share of their drug profits. His Military Intelligence (MI) network is used to expedite passage of drug shipments both through northern Burma and across the various borders. For example, MI Detachment MI Detachment 17 in Sagaing Division is involved in the passage of heroin into India. KHIN NYUNT's closest personal relationships are with Lo Hsing-han to whom he gave special trafficking privileges in 1993; and, more recently, Lin Min-shing (Lin Mingxian), who is based at Mong La opposite Yunnan, and who is now ( since the retirements of Lo Hsing-han and Khun Sa) the most powerful drug warlord in Burma. In addition to his heroin interests, KHIN NYUNT has recently acquired shares in five amphetamine laboratories in areas control areas controlled by Lin Min-shing near Mong La.

Other members of the SPDC who have direct and important drug connections are the No.4, Lieutenant General LIEUTENANT GEN TIN OO, who is officially titled Secretary (2) of the Council, and who is part-owner of two heroin refineries, at Murng Kerng and Kaesee(Kesi) in central Shan State: Bragadier General MYINT AUNG, who is now Commander of the Southeast command (based at Moulmein), but who in 1995-97 was the tactical operations commaerations commandeer in the Mong Ton area of the Traangle Region Command, where he was paid large bribes to protect the herion refineries around Mong Ton, Mong Taw and Mong Tha."


Recalling one decade ago when I was in Burma, I have heard things about military/MI convoys were involved, not in trafficking heroin, but in some Jade/Gemstone blackmarket operations. Given the magnitude of lawlessness as is now in Burma, it is entirely possible that the allegation of traffickingsof traffickings by military and involvements of top military leaders in it may be well founded.


As the Burmese opposition activists, we do engage in a daily campaign for reconciliation with the military junta, no matter one considered how heinous of their 'human rights crimes' against the Burmese people. The junta leader's involvement in drug trafficking, however, are not human rights issues: it is considered a downright criminal activity. The issue is critically international seinternational security issue on which we (the opposition activists outside) or National League for Democracy will have not much influence to say. As the allegation has been extremely serious, we must certainly draw it to the attention of UN Security Council and

influential governments.

Burma observers would have well noticed that last July the Thai military officials expressing concerns about Burmese army's involvement in drug trade and Canadian Foreign ministers offers for cooperation. Hopefully, it is not too late for junoo late for junta to come clean of its drug involvements and immediately cooperate with international community and opposition NLD to resolve the issues.

With best regards, U Ne Oo.

Drugs: Thai PM blames Yangon

Chuan Leekpai hits out at Myanmar's lack of cooperation in stemming the inflow of drugs, alleging that the latest haul comes from Myanmar

BANGKOK -- Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai yesterday blamed the Myanmar authorities for soaring drug-addiction rates among youth because of their lack of cooperation in stemming the inflow of illicit drugs. The criticism follows the discovery by police here of two hauls totalling 3.8 million amphetamine tablets allegedly manufactured by ethnic Wa insurgents in eastern Myanmar.

"I have instructed the national police chief to find more effective measures to intercept es to intercept drugs as this haul has proved that international cooperation was useless," Mr Chuan told reporters. "From the report it is clear that the drug belongs to the Wa, so the drugs certainly came from outside Thailand," he said.

"I have made the observation that the arrests were accidental. How can that quantity of the drugs have slipped past the authorities' eyes." Although Mr Chuan did not directly name Myanmar, Yangon has repeatedly vowed to cooperate with neighbouring Thailand to clamp down to clamp down on the illicit cross-border trade.

Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan received an assurance of cooperation while in Yangon in August at a meeting with powerful junta First Secretary Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt. Thai officials have blamed the United Wa State Army for trafficking hundreds of millions of amphetamine tablets made in jungle laboratories across the border.

Critics of the Myanmar regime accuse it of allowing the Wa insurgents to continue trading drugs in return for a ceasefiurn for a ceasefire. Many believe the junta also profits financially from the trade, a charge Yangon's generals deny. Myanmar is one of the world's biggest producers of heroin along with Afghanistan and is accused of hosting hundreds of amphetamine factories along its border with Thailand.

Meanwhile, Thailand reportedly has more than 600,000 child drug addicts. Researchers from Chulalongkorn University's Education Centre for the Underprivileged recently found that children made up more than 50 per cent on 50 per cent of total drug arrests and up to 80 per cent of cases in the juvenile court related to amphetamines.

In Bangkok, amphetamine use is rampant in the slums. In Klong Toey port slum -- home to 100,000 taxi drivers, stall holders, dockers and the unemployed -- amphetamines known as Ya Baa are widely consumed by users who need to stay awake for long working shifts. -- AFP

The Strait Times- JAN 15 2000

Myanmar drug barons find sweet way to beat drug ban o beat drug ban

Thai officials believe the drug barons are using sugar mills to produce ephedrine as millions of amphetamine tablets are seized each day

BANGKOK Narcotics officials fear drug barons in Myanmar are using sugar mills to achieve self-sufficiency in ephedrine, the key ingredient in amphetamines flooding from the military- ruled country. With cross-border movement of ephedrine under ever tighter control by world governments, they believe guerilla groups like the United Wa Stae United Wa State Army and Eastern Shan State Army set up the outwardly legitimate enterprises to beat the ban.

The Myanmar government ridicules the suggestion, but Thai officials say the development would pose enormous problems in their battle to stem a cross-border tide of hundreds of millions of amphetamine tablets every year. Viroj Somyai, head of the narcotics division of the Thai Food and Drug Administration, told Reuters he had no hard evidence yet to prove ephedrine was being made in Myanmar's Shan state.ar's Shan state.

"But from my calculations, I fear it may be happening at this moment. There are huge quantities of methamphetamines flowing into Thailand and the raw materials are not so easily obtained. "We're seizing one million, two million, three million tablets a day. That must mean there's a huge amount of ephedrine being used."

Narcotics experts say the drug dealers of northeastern Myanmar's Shan state have tended to get ephedrine illicitly from China, where it is extracted from the indigenous epheindigenous ephedra plant. But pharmacists say it can also be produced by processing sugar or cheaper molasses with benzaldehyde, a non-controlled substance that can be freely imported.

This process, exploited commercially by firms like India's Krebs Biochem to produce lawful ephedrine for hay fever and asthma medicines, is now possible in Shan State given the sugar mills which ethnic groups have established in recent years.

"What we are wondering is whether we were misled by trying to control ephedrine ftrol ephedrine from other sources -- from ephedra rather than sugar cane molasses," said a senior Thai narcotics police officer who did not want to be identified.

Mr Viroj said it was relatively simple to make ephedrine using sugar. "It's not a complicated technique at all. It's cheap technology. If you have a sugar mill industry and the facilities to produce alcohol or whiskey, then you can do it."

Ethnic groups in Shan State say sugar production provides an alternative to opium, long their main cash crop As well as sugar mills, they have established plants for local production of alcoholic beverages like whiskey.

Mr R.T. Ravi, managing director of Krebs Biochem, told Reuters making ephedrine from sugar or molasses did not need very costly technology but he doubted it could be done without the knowledge of local authorities. "It's not big money about $3 million would give you a plant for 70-80 tonnes of ephedrine a year."

Mr Viroj said it was possible to test whether amphetamines were producmines were produced with ephedrine from sugar or from ephedra. He said the most recent Thai tests were on drugs seized in 1998, which showed the ephedrine was derived from ephedra. A UN narcotics official in Bangkok said he was unaware of ephedrine production in Shan state, but added: "They are certainly producing a lot of sugar up there, and more and more of it all the time." -- Reuters

EPHEDRINE: What it is

EPHEDRINE can be produced in two ways. By extracting it from the ephedra plant or by processing sugar or cheaper molasses with benzaldehyde. Medicinally, it is used as a decongestant to treat colds, allergies and asthma. It is classified as a stimulant and has been banned by international sports bodies. Several athletes, including Argentine soccer hero Diego Maradona, have been banned for testing positive for Ephedrine. Its side-effects sometimes mimic the effect of amphetamines. It is used to make the drug Ice.

Strange slience of OSS about ATS