Opium production surges in Myanmar, UN says

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VIENNA, Oct 10 (Reuters) Opium production has surged in Myanmar with official collusion, threatening to unravel major progress in eradicating the drug in Southeast Asia, a UN report said today.

The finding by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime adds to international pressure on Myanmar caused by the military junta's violent suppression last month of large pro-democracy rallies.

The ''Golden Triangle'', a notoriously lawless region spanning parts of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos, has ceased to be a big supplier of opium, from which heroin is made, thanks to a concerted campaign over the past decades.

''The significant downward trend in Southeast Asia risks being undercut by an alarming upsurge in opium cultivation in Myanmar,'' said the office.

Laos has cut output by 94 per cent in a decade, Thailand has had no significant production for almost 20 years, and Myanmar's share of the world market shrivelled from 63 per cent to 6 per cent between 1998 and 2006, the UNODC study said.

But opium cultivation in Myanmar, formerly Burma, increased by 29 per cent to 27,700 hectares (66,480 acres) in 2007, while output rose by 46 per cent due to improved yields, it added.

Output is still nowhere near that of Afghanistan, which provides about 95 per cent of the world's opium, but nevertheless reinforced Myanmar's position in second place, with 460 tonnes.

Myanmar's illicit production was concentrated in the states of Kachin, Shan and Kayah, the report said.

''There seem to be factors in this part of Myanmar that are conducive to the drug trade, including corruption, high-level collusion and weak border security,'' UNODC Director Antonio Maria Costa said in the report.

''As a result, plenty of powerful people are profiting.'' He called for international pressure on Myanmar's leaders to crack down on drug trafficking, to curb demand for drugs and to control the supply of ''precursor chemicals'' needed to make heroin.

Costa said last week that Afghanistan produced a record 8,000 tonnes of opium this year, with the proceeds feeding the Taliban insurgency, official corruption and global terrorism.

REUTERS SYU BST2227

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