Mon, May 21, 2012 - Page 4 News List

Myanmar, rebels sign anti-drug deal

TWO WAY STREET: The negotiations were based on the government committing to raising the living standards of poppy farmers and rebels to control the trafficking

AFP, KENGTUNG, MYANMAR

Myanmar’s government and ethnic rebels engaged in peace talks signed a deal on Saturday to wipe out drug production in Shan State, a minister involved in negotiations said.

The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and its military wing the Shan State Army (SSA) had proposed a raft of measures to “eradicate” opium and amphetamine production in the area — a notorious drugs hub bordering Thailand.

The government signed an accord with rebels, Burmese Railways Minister Aung Min said after the latest round of peace talks in Kengtung, Shan State on Saturday. He did not provide details of the deal. Rebel negotiators had called for a cross-­border blitz on drug production, urged funds to be made ­available to poppy farmers who abandon the crop and for traffickers to be punished.

“RCSS wants total eradication of narcotic drugs,” the group said in a document released in conjunction with the SSA. “As the ethnic armed groups and the government have made ceasefire[s] to solve the political issues ... the RCSS will cooperate with the government through the drug eradication plan.”

The rebels also asked to meet reformist Burmese President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw, a request Aung Min said would be “discussed.”

Myanmar’s multiple ethnic rebel organizations generally use profits from narcotics to fund their operations, analysts said.

Shan State was labeled a production hub for drugs by a UN Office on Drugs and Crime report last year, which also branded Myanmar a “major source of methamphetamine pills and opiates in Southeast Asia.”

Methamphetamine has been a boom industry in impoverished Myanmar, and Saturday’s statement was a rare recognition by the rebels of soaring output.

The rebels also pledged to cooperate with China, Laos and Thailand to “control” the cross-border movement of chemicals used to make the pills, often in small factories hidden in the jungle.

Central to drug control efforts, the group said, is “uplifting the living standards of the poppy farmers” who should be given crops or livestock and offered training to find new revenue sources.

It also urged punishment for “persons or armed groups ­protecting, owning, trading, producing and carrying narcotic drugs.”

The Shan State Army South agreed to a ceasefire with the government in December last year in response to peace overtures.

It had been one of the biggest rebel groups fighting Myanmar’s army, mostly from guerrilla outposts bordering Thailand. The movement’s exact demands are not clear, but it has been fighting for greater autonomy for decades.

The Shan are the country’s second-biggest ethnic group, accounting for about 9 ­percent of the population, and Shan State covers a vast area of northeastern Myanmar.

The country is the world’s ­second-largest opium poppy grower after Afghanistan.

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