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The Myanmar connection: Heroin, HIV

Subject: The Myanmar connection: Heroin, HIV flow through porous borders

The Myanmar connection: Heroin, HIV flow through porous borders
(by Rupa Chinai)

Imphal: India has paid little attention to its Myanmar connection. A
country whose western border adjoins the north-eastern Indian states of
Nagaland, Manipur and Arunchal Pradesh, Myanmar is shrouded in a veil of
secrecy. Since 1988 with the takeover by a military dictatorship, SLORC
(State Law and Order Restoration Council), Myanmar has closed its doors
to the outside world.

Despite its isolation, growing evidence suggests that adverse economic
and health conditions in Myanmar are having repercussion in India and
therefore warrant New Delhi's concern and intervention.

A visit to the area shows that lack of basic economic development on
both sides of the India- Myanmar border is encouraging an opium driven
economy. Opium is widely cultivated and used as a means of barter and
its easy availability encourages addiction.

For the past several years, Myanmar has produced more than half of the
world's illicit opium, and is now the pricipal source of heroin for the
US market, according to US government reports. Observer say that with
the crack-down against heroin trafficking by Thailand, the drug trade
route has altered and can now be traced from within Myanmar, through
north-eastern India and possibly Banglsdesh as well.

The Central government appears to be impervious to the fact that India
is emerging as a significant conduit in the international heroin trade
emanating from the Golden Triangle in Myanmar. A march 1997 report of
the United Nations' International Narcotics Control Board says India is
a "Significant trans-shipment point for heroin from south-west and
south-east Asia."

Despite SLORC's claims of having launched operations to reduce opium
cultivation and crub drug lords, there is strong suspicion that
Myanmar's drug empire enjoys official patronage.

The UN report states: " SLORC's business relationship with some of
Burma's top narco-trafficking minority groups raise the suspicion in the
minds of some observers that senior Burmese officials are profiting from
narcotics revenues... There are persistent reports that lower level
officials, particularly in the border regions, are involved in taking
bribes in return for ignoring drug smuggling."

While western countries tried to pressure Myanmar to reduce opium
cultivation and step up economic development instead, this has not
happend. Hordes of young Myanmar refugees, primarily from the Chin and
Kachin States of Myanmar and now living in Mon(Nagaland), told this
correspondent that they fled economic oppression.

Their description of life back home corroborates a report smuggled out
of Myamar which was compiled by an NGO based in Kachin. The NGO's survey
of 41 villages and towns speaks of widespread opium cultivation in
Kachin, and up to 80% addition in these areas. They also speak of
villages that are riddled with Tuberculosis, and the absence of roads,
schools, medicines and Doctors.

The outpouring of millions of "migrants" from Myanmar into China, India
and Thailand, has also hightened the risk of HIV spread, say two US
based researchers, Denis Bernstein and Leslie Kean, whose finding were
published in the December 1996 issue of the US journal, The Nation. "The
highest rates of HIV infection in both China and India lie right at
their border with Myanmar," they state.

According to published reports of the WHO and UN, there are close to
500,000 drug addicts in Myanmar. Almose 60 to 70 per cent of IV drug
users are HIV positive. These estimates are further confirmeed by 1995
sentinel surveillance figures of the US Bureau of Census.

Police and customs officials at Manipur's border town of Moreh admit
there is a problem. Moreh is the end point of National High Way 39,
infamous as the "number four" (pure grade heroin) route linking India
and Myanmar . KN Singh , sub-divisional police officer, admits that
besides heroin, firearms and precious stones from Myanmar are also
smuggled in. There are two check-posts here. 

" It is an open border with no checks, particularly between Moreh to
Molcham, a 100 km stretch," says Mr. Singh. " There is no road, only a
foot track and thick jungle. Any one can pass through. Very little
heroin is seized. In the past year, the only seizures have been small
amounts from drug addicts in Moreh. Last year's total haul was only half
a Kg. We know that a great volume of drug is comming, particularly
through the jungle routes. We do not, however, have an estimate.

The Times of India . (India Newspaper)
Monday, April 21, 1997.