Already a major source of opium and methamphetamine, the country's newfound peace could lead to new problems.
Thai soldiers cut away opium plants along the Burmese border / Reuters
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In an extensive article in the Bangkok Post, Australian National University professor Desmond Ball, a longtime expert on Myanmar, highlights the issue that, above all, may be the trickiest to solve if the country's reform process is to go forward. While the central government has been working on transforming cease-fires into permanent peace deals with the many ethnic insurgent armies throughout the country, Myanmar's drug production has actually been increasing since many cease-fires were originally inked, according to Ball. He suggests that Myanmar is "the largest narcotic state in the world" when you combine the production of opium (it is the world's second largest opium producer, after Afghanistan) with the production of methamphetamines, of which Myanmar is probably the largest in the world. Ball believes that in 2009 and 2010 the amount of methamphetamine, known as ya baa, or "crazy drug" in Thai, flowing into Thailand from Myanmar increased from 800 million tablets annually to one billion annually. His analysis contradicts the official report on Myanmar's drug production from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, but it jibes with my own analysis, as well as that of many Thai intelligence officers and experts studying drug trafficking into Thailand.
The drugs are mostly produced in the north and northeast, in regions controlled by ethnic armies, particularly the United Wa State Army -- the dominant narcotrafficking organization in the region. Ball notes --and I concur from my experience-- that Myanmar military units are closely involved in the shipping of the drugs out of the country and into Thailand and Laos, where the army units help move the drugs past checkpoints and ensure security from raids by Thai forces and DEA units that work with them.