Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have little money to fight drugs

Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are expected to face serious setbacks in their battle against drug crimes due to financial constraints brought on by weakened economies, Swedish expert warns.

Mr. Yngve Danling, a Swedish Bangkok-based official with the regional office of the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), which oversees East Asia and the Pacific, was quoted by the Nation newspaper earlier this month for issueing a warning that Myanmar and Laos, the world’s two largest producers of opium, are desperately in need of funds to support their anti-narcotics 
programs. The same goes for Cambodia, a major producer of cannabis, and Vietnam, which is fast becoming a market for heroin and a drug route to the West.

Laos has estimated it needs US$80 million to fund crop substitution programs for its opium-growing farmers.

Myanmar, also a major producer of amphetamine-type stimulants or ATS drugs, is in a financial dilemma as it cannot receive loans due to Western sanctions against human rights violations in the country.

“Myanmar and Laos depend a lot on foreign assistance,” Mr. Yngve Danling says.

The UNDCP had been allocated US$3 million this year to provide technical and financial assistance programs to the six countries in the Greater Mekong region to reduce money laundering and cross-border trafficking.

The region, which also includes southern China, has become a major source of illicitly produced opium, heroin, cannabis and synthetic drugs like methamphetamines and ecstasy.

Investments and tourism in these countries have been hurt by Western travel warnings in the wake of last month’s Bali bombings.

Among the poorest countries in the region, they are unlikely 
to be able to spare any more resources for drug law enforcement.

Thailand, which is financially better off, would also be affected because its economy is heavily dependent on tourism.

All five countries are either major producers or transit points 
for international drug syndicates.

Heroin seizures in Yunan province (China), which shares a border with Myanmar, increased to 8,000 kg last year, three times that of the previous year, according to a recent UNDCP report.

China has replaced Thailand as a major transit route for the drug to final destinations in Europe, the US and Australia, it said.

But Mr. Danling noted that there had been no slackening of commitment
by major donors like the US, Japan and Sweden.

“On the contrary, I understand that major donors have become more interested in issues like money laundering which is one of the areas they have tightened to stop drug money from being used to finance terrorists,” he said.

But the UNDCP cannot be expected to tackle the problem alone.

Law enforcement agencies in Southeast Asian countries must ultimately bear the major portion of the responsibility.

Two recent major arrests in Thailand by its Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) highlighted the importance of having a well-established drug-busting agency.

One recent arrest involved a record seizure of 60,000 ecstasy pills, while the other in September uncovered almost 140 kg of heroin which had a street value of 1.5 billion baht or US$39 million.

The drugs were suspected to have originated from Myanmar or Laos.

“These countries need more support than us,” a senior ONCB official was quoted.

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