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Golden Triangle Announces Success of Opium Eradication Programs

Burma and Laos have reported sharp declines in the cultivation of opium, the raw material for heroin, after stepped-up crop eradication and substitution programs.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime [UNODC] says opium cultivation in the Golden Triangle region of South East Asia has fallen sharply this year mostly due to crop eradication programs.

The Golden Triangle is the point where the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos meet along the Mekong River. This area is the world's second biggest producer of opium behind Afghanistan.

Laos reported that it has reduced the amount of land under opium cultivation, but production remains steady at about 120 tons.

The UNODC says Burma reduced its opium production to just 810 tons, down from more than 1,000 tons two years ago.

But in the northern areas controlled by the ethnic Wa, who are also accused of producing vast amounts of methamphetamine pills, opium cultivation increased by more than 20 percent.

Another Burmese ethnic group responsible for opium production, the Kokang people, have nearly eradicated opium under an agreement with Burma's military government.

"It is the will of the people to get out of these crops because they are very much aware that illicit cultivations means also violence, the smuggling of arms," said Sandro Calvani, the UNODC's regional representative. "The Kokang people no longer want to depend on income from opium. It means rebels and a situation, which is not conducive to sustainable development."

Mr. Calvani said recent threats from the international community to tighten economic sanctions on Burma will undermine the Kokang's work and he says they now have no source of income and need help.

"Now this situation makes our eradication goals very difficult because… we are asking of the poorest people of the region to get rid of the only… source of cash that they have," added Mr. Calvani.

The UNODC says more aid money to Burma will help farmers develop alternative crops. The agency also says aid will support democratic transition, because without income from drugs, Burma can continue with genuine economic development.