Source : News and Analysis of the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation, Arakan (Burma)

Burma has long been a major grower of opium poppies and a producer of heroin processed from opium harvested from the poppies. Under the rule of SLORC/SPDC, Burma has become the world's heroin capital. Heroin production has leaped nearly 400% since the Burmese military junta seized power in 1988. This unprecedented surge in Burmese drug production is fuelling an alarming global increase in heroin use.

The junta has made no serious effort to control this trade and countless reports point to the complicity of Burmese military regime in drug trade. Despite some improvements in anti-drug actions, drug traffickers in Burma are involved in running ports, toll, roads, airline, banks and industries, often joint ventures with the government.

According to U.S. State Department's report of March 1999, Burma was not only the world's chief supplier of heroin but also "systematically encouraged" money laundering. Drug money, said the Americans, plays a "significant" role in the national economy. Burma's drug lords are now major investors in the country's economy and Burma's army rulers are clearly abetting and benefiting from heroin trade. Some drug lords are even trying to get into Rangoon banking, which would only entrench its growing reputation as a money-laundering centre. Burmese banking regulations are notably pliant, permitting any amount of desperately needed foreign exchange to be deposited upon payment of a 30% tax, or less during periodic amnesties or if certified by the junta as investment for "national development"

The "Golden Triangle" where the frontiers of Burma, Laos and Thailand meet along the Mekong River, has long been an important heroin producing area. The drug is refined from opium harvested from poppy flowers grown there. It is a place where the fishy-smelling bricks of opium paste were exchanged for gold bars and cash--hence the name "Golden Triangle". But, now, the Trio-border of Burma, Bangladesh and India is turning to be the second "Golden Triangle" of heroin producing area.

Burma is the world's largest producer and exporter of heroin, accounting for between 40% and 60% of world supply. Burma's Asian neighbours, including Bangladesh, China, India, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, and even Cambodia and Vietnam, are all increasingly affected by the rising tide of heroin exports, addiction, AIDS, and corruption linked to the drug trade.

The biggest source of heroin traditionally was the poppy-growing gardens in Shan State. But, by the direct patronage of the military junta poppy -cultivation has new reportedly extended beyond Shan State. Now poppy-growing areas have been reported in the Chin State under the Palet Wa Township in the upper valley of Lemro River. There the local tribal people have developed vast orchards of oranges and other fruits but within many of these orchards poppy is being grown extensively. Even some tribal people in Bandarban district, by encouragement of the SLORC men, are growing poppy in the trio-border area of Bangladesh, Burma and India, which the Bangladesh Army men are trying to eradicate.

Enjoying the close association of the SLORC/SPDC, the drug traffickers are trying to develop a new overland route from Palet Wa poppy-growing area to Alikadam in Bandarban hill district through the maze of hills, which would greatly shorten the distance to the destination at Chittagong port.

Since 1989, Arakan has increasingly become a major trade route for drugs. Enjoying patronage and unofficial participation by the members of the military intelligence agencies and military high officials, trafficking of heroin and other drugs from Burma through Akyab into Chittagong has intensified over the last ten years. The problem of Drug-trafficking has assumed in unprecedentedly serious magnitude in Chittagong, the main pipeline port for "Shipping " the drugs to European and American destinations from there original sources in the Golden Triangle of Burma.

Most heroin in Burma is produced in small, mobile labs located near the borders with Thailand and China in Shan State in areas controlled by narco-insurgencies. But some of the refineries that produce Burma's heroin have reportedly been placed well within the reach of the SPDC's battalions. The 52nd Regiment has its headquarters near Sinkaling Hkamti (Chin State), and a heroin refinery sits north of there. An outpost of the 52nd Regiment at Tamanthi (Chin State) has a second refinery. The 22nd Regiment HQ is based at Homalin (Chin State), where there is another refinery. And a major route into India, Kalemyo, is where the 89th, 238th and 235th Regiment have their headquarters; another refinery is placed there. The 89th Regiment outpost has a heroin refinery at Tiddim and on the western edge of Chin and Arakan States. Another heroin refinery is at Palet Wa, where heroin is also transported into Bangladesh. The only way to transport anything in bulk to and from Palet Wa is by helicopter, which is what the Army uses. According to a reliable source in eastern Shan State, refinery operators had recently been ordered by the junta to migrate to Arakan State. According to a report from Thailand on 3 December, 'Refineries are being told to relocate quietly in the Arakan State by the order of Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt. Maj. Khin Maung, deputy Commander, 49th Burma Regiment who returned by plane from Rangoon on 12 November held a meeting with Chao Li-heien, the principal drug producer in the area, to move his "out fit" to the Arakan State in the west, opposite Bangladesh and India. It is thought that the proposal to move was prompted by embarrassing publicity around drug activities along the Thai and Chinese borders.

Rangoon has become a haven for retired opium warlords and their money. They are all over the capital, leaders of the Kokang, the Paloung, and so on. Perhaps the most famous is Khun Sa, who took over as king of the Golden Triangle in 1973. Although, he had long been denounced by the SLORC, when Khun Sa finally surrendered to the junta in 1996, he was welcomed by the Rangoon generals as a "brother". Now he lives quite comfortably under heavy-armed guard in Rangoon military compound, protected from the $2million bounty U.S. prosecutors have placed on his head. Khun Sa's family is slowly building a legitimate business empire under various companies, including the Good Shan Brothers in Rangoon. It is learnt from reliable sources that opium king Khun Sa and SPDC had struck a business deal to carry out 10 projects in Northern Arakan. May Flower Bank is running inland shipping services from Akyab to Kyauk Pyu and from Akyab to Buthidaung. The Bank is also going to run Coastal Shipping Services from Akyab to Cox' Bazar and Chittagong in Bangladesh. May Flower Bank is trying to open branches in Arakan. May Flower Bank was established in 1994 by Col. Kyaw Win. An ethnic Chinese educated in Mandalay, Kyaw Win has been closely associated with Choon, a Thai timber tycoon, since 1980. Choon and Kyaw Win operated logging ventures making a deal with Khun Sa. Gen. Maung Aye, the present Burmese Military Chief, is reported to have close association with Kyaw Win. Since opium King Khun Sa's surrender in 1996, May Flower Bank has sudden growth. So May Flower Bank is closely associated with Khun Sa's men and money.

Since early 1990s the Asian Wealth Bank, a narco-money-laundering centre of Burma, has branches in Akyab and Maungdaw. Mr. Aik Htun, the Vice-Chairman of the Asian Wealth Bank who is of Chinese origin and drug related businessmen, was head of the business delegation of Burma that came to Dhaka in 1998. As the head of the Burmese business delegation, Mr. Aik Htun signed the memorandum of understanding (MOU) to form Bangladesh-Burma Business Promotion Centre (BMBPC) with Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Mr. R Maksud Khan on July 28, 1998. The Asian Wealth Bank is going to establish free trade zones in the border area and to set up cement plant, paper and pulp mills, marine fishing units, agro- processing industries jointly with Bangladesh business partners.

These drug kingpins, with active support of the SPDC, are now trying to develop the infrastructure of the Arakan Hill Tracts area (now in Chin State), to make the heroin producing havens turning Bangladesh as a major gate way of the Burma's heroin.

The heroin route through western Burma, across the Indo-Burma border, and into the Northeast Indian State of Manipur has led to an explosive dual outbreak of injection drug use and HIV spread. A similar situation has occurred along the Burma's eastern border, with China Yunnan province. The Chinese province of Guangxi on the border with both Yunnan and Vietnam has experienced recent (1997-1999) dual outbreak of HIV and IDU associated with a third route from Burma and Laos, through northern Vietnam and into China. A fourth route from Burma to Yunnan, going north and west, has led to further outbreak of injection in Xinjiang Province since 1998, on the border with Kazakhstan., Burma itself has recently reported township rates of IDU behaviour in up to 25% of adults. Now not only Bangladesh but also the whole South Asian Region is in a danger of these drug-related epidemic and crimes.