Record year for Myanmar meth pill seizures

YANGON: Myanmar police made record meth pill seizures last year, data obtained by AFP showed Wednesday, underscoring the country's ongoing and pivotal role as a major global narcotics producer.

Police confiscated a record 98 million tablets, nearly double the 50 million seized in 2015, according to police data.

Myanmar is one of the world's top drug-producing nations, churning out huge quantities of methamphetamine as well as heroin, opium and cannabis — much of it bound for consumers in Asia and beyond.

Most production takes place in remote border territories controlled by ethnic minority militias or rival armed groups allied to the powerful military.

While low-level smugglers are often arrested, few cartel leaders have ever been brought to justice over the past three decades.

Given the powerful vested interests involved, tackling the trade remains a major hurdle for the newly installed civilian administration of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Myanmar's cheap and abundant meth pills — which contain methamphetamine in low dosages — are hugely popular across Asia, from wealthy clubbers to exhausted blue-collar employees working long shifts.

In addition to the tablets, documents show some 759kg of heroin, 945kg of opium and 2,464kg of pure methamphetamine — the stronger variant known as "ice" — were seized last year.

Drug prosecutions jumped from some 8,800 in 2015 to 13,500.

Narcotics officers say the latest figures show policing is making inroads into the problem.

"But still trafficking is increasing," one senior officer told AFP, asking not to be named.

The officer said key hurdles include a lack of manpower and high-quality detection technology, plus the difficulties of working in areas controlled by armed ethnic minority groups.

"It certainly tallies with our data," Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said adding Myanmar saw a noticeable increase in meth pill production over the past year and a leap in the stronger crystalline variant.

Trafficking routes through the country were also shifting, he said, with smugglers targeting growing domestic demand as well as looking for new markets to the west of Myanmar.

Neighbouring Thailand on Wednesday announced two major drug seizures made during raids last week.

In the southern province of Hat Yai police found 87kg of methamphetamine and 25kg of cannabis.

They also confiscated 720,000 amphetamine tablets and arrested three local suspects in a raid in the northeastern province of Udon Thani.

Officers said the three men were part of a network run by Xaysana Keopimpha, a Laos national detained at Bangkok's main airport last month and described by Thai police as a regional drug kingpin.

Thailand, Myanmar and Laos share a porous, remote and largely mountainous zone dubbed "The Golden Triangle" which has long been a major drugs-producing region.

While seizures are fairly common, analysts say the overall battle is hampered by endemic official corruption and drug syndicates' ability to bounce back from raids with ramped-up production. — AFP