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Report Warns of Rapid Growth in Opium Cultivation in Burma


Paluang Women's Organization accuses Burmese authorities, army leaders and pro-government militia of profiting by extorting funds from opium farmers.

A new report say opium production in Burma's Shan State far exceeds official Burmese and United Nations estimates. The Paluang Women's Organization says the increasing output undermines the area economy because government forces extort taxes from opium producing areas.

The Paluang Women's Organization says opium cultivation in Burma's northern Shan State has increased five-fold in recent years.

In a report issued Tuesday, the group accuses Burmese authorities, army leaders and pro-government militia of profiting by extorting funds from opium farmers.

Luway Daug Jar, a coordinator with the organization, says the increased opium production hurts the local economy, by reducing tea crops and contributing to a rise in drug addiction.

"Paluang people, they are growing opium in order to pay enough tax, in order to feed those militias and those soldiers that are controlling the local economy," said Luway Daug Jar. "At the same time those drugs are destroying their sons and the future. So it's just like a cycle in the areas."

In the township of Man Tong, the group says, about 85 percent of males over the age of 15 are addicted to opium or heroin.

The group's report says the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime - UNODC - did not acknowledge the rapid growth of opium poppy production in government controlled areas.

The UNODC last month reported that opium poppy cultivation had been increasing "at a relatively slow pace." The UNODC quoted Burmese government figures in its findings, with Shan State accounting for 95 percent of the country's opium output.

In 2006 and 2007, the UNODC reported just under 160 hectares being used to grow opium in Shan State. But the Paluang Women's Organization's survey of two villages under militia control - Man Tong and Namkham - showed about 390 hectares of poppy cultivation.

Two years later, the UNODC reports around 650 hectares of opium, against the women's group's survey of more than 1,800 hectares.

Debbie Stothardt, the spokeswoman for the Burma rights group the Alternative ASEAN Network, says UNODC officials did not rely on the expertise of local organizations in Burma.

"UNODC and all these international agencies do not even dare use the information collected by these brave people because they do not want to criticize the military authorities of Burma who have created this situation that make communities grow opium and perpetuate the situation of economic deprivation and the insecurity of those areas," she said.

The Paluang Women's Organization says that political reforms, improved security and stronger economic growth are needed to shift farmers away from growing opium and to cut drug addiction.

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