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UN Presses SE Asian Nations to Stem Illegal Drug Production, Traffic    - 2004-09-22

United Nations and law enforcement officials are pressing Southeast Asian nations to step-up cooperation in curtailing illegal drug production and traffic.

In Thailand, it is called "ya ba," or crazy medicine, but use of the amphetamine-type stimulants is increasing throughout the region.

Two of Southeast Asia's main illegal drugs, amphetamines and heroin, have long been produced in the "Golden Triangle," where Thailand, Laos and Burma, also known as Myanmar, share borders.

Police General Chidchai Vanasatidya of Thailand's Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) says he thinks one way to slow down the drug trade is to reduce the flow of the "precursor chemicals" coming from other countries to production plants. "We have to work more on the cooperation among the foreign communities to prevent the precursors coming into Myanmar," he said. "Both ephedrine for methamphetamine and chemicals to refine opium to heroin."

Burma is the world's second largest producer of opium and is among the world's biggest producers and traffickers of amphetamine-type stimulants.

Clandestine chemical laboratories in India and China export as much as four million tons of precursor chemicals each year to illegal refineries in Burma and elsewhere in the region.

Thailand remains a big market for these amphetamine-type drugs despite last year's heavy-handed crackdown.

Some observers say Thailand's crackdown created new problems for the region, as criminal gangs sought more vulnerable markets such as Cambodia and the Philippines.

Graham Shaw, the UNODC representative in Phnom Penh, says Cambodia - with its corruption and low wages - is an easy market for drug syndicates.

"Methamphetamine use is rapidly escalating and is getting out of control and if programs are not put in place very, very quickly, it's going to be a catastrophe for the country," said Graham Shaw.

Mr. Shaw says drug abuse is as high as 20 percent or more among Cambodian laborers. He says that at the country's international donor meeting in December, funding for drug prevention programs should be high on the list.