Drug bonfires point to crisis 

Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand have burned street drugs worth more than US$1 billion to mark the UN day against drugs and trafficking.

Thailand’s justice minister last year admitted that the kingdom’s war on drugs was failing.

In Thailand’s Ayutthaya province, more than 9 tonnes of drugs with a street value of over US$590 million were burned, including methamphetamines, known in Thai as “yaba” or “crazy”.

On an industrial estate, the Thai authorities said they burned 7,800kg of yaba pills and 1,185kg of more potent crystal methamphetamine.

“Currently, we are able to take down a lot of networks, including … transnational networks bringing drugs into Thailand … to be shipped to Malaysia and other countries,” Sirinya Sitthichai of the Thai Narcotics Control Board told a press conference in Ayutthaya.

In Cambodia, 130kg of drugs estimated to be worth some US$4 million went up in smoke.

In Myanmar, the police said they destroyed drugs worth around US$385 million.

Myanmar is one of the world’s largest producers of opium, heroin and methamphetamines, with China the main market. Demand in India and Bangladesh is also rising.

It is a legacy of decades of civil war in Myanmar’s border regions where government troops and ethnic rebel forces have vied for control of the lucrative trade.

Asean’s addiction rates for methamphetamines were growing, the UN said. It estimated that the Asean trade in heroin and methamphetamine was US$31 billion back in 2013.

The rising levels of drug seizures reportedly represent a tiny fraction of narcotics produced.

Myanmar held three official ceremonies, said the police in Nay Pyi Taw. The biggest was in Yangon.

“We burned a record amount of drugs today… because police have seized more in recent years,” a drugs officer, Myo Kyi, told AFP.

Unlike drug bosses in Latin American, Asean’s cartel leaders in the “golden triangle” between Myanmar, Laos and Thailand are rarely arrested or killed.

Myanmar’s police said almost all the drugs seized were from sprawling Shan State on the northern border.

The United Wa State Army, a 25,000-strong force known as Asia’s most heavily armed drug dealer, controls autonomous zones on the border with China.

The Wa authorities deny producing drugs and held a burning session on Monday in the village of Ponpakyin.

Drugs gangs have increasingly focussed on the domestic market, leading to a massive addiction problem in Myanmar.

Buddhist monks and military officers were among 13,500 people prosecuted for drugs crimes last year, up 50 per cent from the previous year, according to AFP.

Heroin cultivation in Myanmar’s Shan State. Picture credit: Vimeo