(Adds comment on Myanmar)
BANGKOK Dec 15 Opium cultivation is back
on the rise in Myanmar and Laos despite government eradication
campaigns, with impoverished farmers lured by higher prices and
strong demand from neighbouring countries, the United Nations
said on Thursday.
The area of land devoted to growing opium, a paste from
poppy used to make heroin, has increased by 14 percent in
Myanmar from last year and 38 percent in Laos, according to
satellite and helicopter surveys carried out by the U.N. Office
on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Myanmar and Lao governments.
The two countries form part of Southeast Asia's infamous
Golden Triangle, which once accounted for more than 70 percent
of the world's supply of heroin.
Myanmar accounts for 91 percent of regional production and
an estimated 9 percent of global output. Afghanistan
supplies about 90 percent of global
Poverty and food security were a big concern in all the
areas of Myanmar surveyed, with an estimated 35 percent of
people having insufficient food, providing little incentive for
farmers to stop growing opium poppies.
Cultivation in Southeast Asia climbed 16 percent in 2011 and
there was twice as much land growing opium as five years ago,
according to the said.
"There needs to be recognition that the lack of security,
political stability and sustainable development are some of the
key drivers behind increased opium production," Yuri Fedotov,
UNODC executive director, said in the report.
Cultivation rose for a fifth consecutive year in Myanmar
after six years of decline. The survey showed 43,600 hectares
(107,700 acres) of land was used for opium, up 14 percent from
2010. Although average yields had fallen 8 percent, the larger
area under cultivation resulted in an overall increase.
DRUGS AND CONFLICT
The affected areas were Shan State in the northeast, which
accounts for 91 percent of total growth, and Kachin State in the
north, where cultivation was up 27 percent from 2010.
Large parts of Kachin and Shan states bordering China have
for decades been battlefields between ethnic minority rebels and
the military, leaving the areas virtually lawless and deprived
of state funds.
Critics have long doubted Myanmar's commitment to wiping out
the lucrative trade because some of the military generals who
led the country until early this year enjoyed close ties with
tycoons linked to the drug business.
However, Western countries are hoping a new civilian
government that took office in March, which seems keen to
improve Myanmar's image and engage with the international
community, might take a tougher line on opium.
The government has embarked on a series of reforms that have
stunned critics and is now seeking peace talks with rebel groups
in Shan and Kachin states. It has made cooperation to suppress
drug production central to proposed ceasefire deals.
"A ceasefore would be a welcome
first step in all this. What we need to do is invest in these
areas, which we have not been able to go to, where intensity of
cultivation is the highest, and therefore are in greatest
need ," UNODC country director for Myanmar, Jason
Eligh, told reporters.
" If we were given access and can
provide assistance to these areas, it would have an enormous
impact on cultivation in Myanmar. "
In Laos, large concentrations of growth were detected in two
provinces previously identified as opium-free.
The total area under cultivation was still low compared with
10 years ago, but it represented a 38 percent increase from
2010, expanding 4,100 hectares (10,000 acres), with a potential
yield of 25 tonnes that was drawing more families into a
business geared mostly towards serving domestic addicts, the
The government was not doing enough to tackle the problem,
it said, with only 10 percent of 1,100 villages that had stopped
growing opium receiving alternative development assistance.
(Reporting by Martin Petty; Editing by Robert Birsel)