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Burma Cuts Opium Production - 2002-08-28

U.N. officials say news that Burma has cut opium production is a step in the right direction, but warn more has to be done to ease the problem. The officials were commenting on a U.N. report saying Burma's opium production fell by 25 percent in the past year.

The representative for the U.N. Drug Control Program in Burma, Jean-Luc Lemahieu praises the decline in opium cultivation. He says it is due, in part, to the policies of the Burmese government. "The political commitment is there," he said. "That the results speak for themselves. That we have been helped by other elements, there is no doubt about that. The weather definitely has played to our advantage. The overall intolerance toward the opium cultivation, regionally and internationally, definitely has helped it as well."

The United Nations reported that opium production in Burma declined during the past year, to 800 tons from 1,100 tons.

U.N. anti-drug officials say that Burmese production has been supplanted by opium production in Afghanistan. The opium crop there is expected to top 2,000 tons, after being nearly eradicated under the Taleban government.

The Taleban was ousted late last year as part of the war against the al-Qaida terrorist network. Afghan farmers resumed planting opium because of the war, low prices for other crops and weak support from the new Afghan government.

Mr. Lemahieu says farmers who switch to legal crops must be supported if Burma is to avoid a resurgence in opium farming. "Those opium farmers who have gone out of the business need to have the resources to sustain their alternative income," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu.

The U.N. official says amphetamine production is another major problem, and is replacing opium trafficking in the Golden Triangle along the borders of Burma, Thailand, and Laos. Millions of doses of amphetamines have been seized in recent months, but the supply of these easily produced and transported drugs continues to rise.