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Ye Htut said methamphetamines are currently a bigger problem for Myanmar than opium, with the precursor chemicals flooding into the country from neighboring India, but that several recent drug busts show the government is taking law enforcement seriously. Those seizures focused primarily on meth, including the reported seizure of 1 million tablets in Yangon this month.

Though the government eradicated only about 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of opium poppies last year, barely half the total of 2012, Ye Htut said he is hopeful future poppy eradication efforts - this time with the help of the U.S. - will be more successful. He said sanctions imposed on the country when it was under military rule made it difficult to finance crop alternatives for poor poppy-growing farmers.


The No. 123 Infantry army base and several police posts overlook waves of white and pink poppies in full bloom on both sides of the dusty road leading to Nampakta, blanketing the sloping valleys and jagged peaks as far as the eye can see.

Farmers living in wooden huts dotting the landscape say the crops are patrolled by government-aligned civil militias known as Pyi Thu Sit, which hold sway over many parts of Shan and Kachin states, the country’s biggest producers of opium.

Jason Eligh, country manager of the U.N. drugs and crime office, said pretty much anyone with a gun has a role to play.

The militias force farmers to grow poppies, lend them money for seeds, protect fields from being eradicated and ensure that buyers collect the opium and get it to market, collecting fees every step of the way.

Soldiers and police, in exchange for turning a blind eye, get a piece of the cut, the official in Nampakta said.

Dealers hanging out at the graveyard, on street corners and behind hillside homes pay security forces to leave them alone, he said, adding that some soldiers and police prefer to receive drugs as payment.

Police work is how Naw San, a former narcotics officer, says he became a drug addict.

“Whenever we were trying to get to the drug dealers, we had to pretend we were drug addicts to make sure they didn’t recognize us as police,” the 32-year-old said from The Light of the World Rehabilitation Center, a Baptist facility where he had checked in three days earlier with his wife, also an addict, and their 2-year-old daughter.

The girl, Tsaw Tsaw, is happy, easygoing and possibly unaware that both her parents are so weak they can’t even hold her. A volunteer at the center helps care for the child.

Naw San said he is trying to overcome his addiction for her daughter’s sake and that of his parents, who had once hoped he would go to theological school.

“My younger brother died already because of drugs and my other brother barely seems human anymore. I am the only one left for my mother to give her hope,” he said. “I hope I will go forward with God and I will serve him. I pray for that.”


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