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Burma Opposition-Government Talks Deadlocked - 2002-04-23

United Nations special envoy on Burma Razali Ismail returned for the seventh time to Rangoon Tuesday, on a mission to end a 12-year-old deadlock in talks between the ruling junta and its political opponents. The Burmese military rulers have worn U.N. patience thin and face stiffer sanctions unless the talks show progress.

Razali Ismail's three-day visit to Rangoon is part of continuing effort by the United Nations to broker a deal between Burma's military government and the opposition led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

Observers have said a failure by Mr. Razali in this round could trigger a tightening of economic sanctions already being stepped up by the European Union and other Western countries.

In the United States, Congress is considering legislation banning imports from Burma (Myanmar).

The United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP) Representative in Rangoon, Jean Luc Lemahieu, has warned that added sanctions might place more pressure on Burma to increase narcotics output.

"Even from the operational point of view, just applying basic mathematics, if you see that U.S. Congress might eventually reduce the exports or sanction the exports to the United States of America from Myanmar, that would lead to a reduction of $500 million of income to Myanmar. And if on the other hand you realize that our best guess estimates of overall opium profits is $500 million, simple mathematics will tell you that one applies to the other," Mr. Lemahieu said.

Burma is the world's second largest producer of opium, and a major producer of methamphetamines, flooding neighboring Thailand with millions of such pills each year. Drug trafficking along the Burma-Thai border is on the agenda of this week's talks in Bangkok between Burma's top military officers and Thai officials.

The U.N.'s Mr. Lemahieu has said the government appears to be cracking down on narcotics production.

U.N. figures show Burma's opium production fell to 865 metric tons last year from more than one thousand tons a year earlier.