Myanmar authorities destroyed more than $446 million worth of illegal drugs seized across the country to mark the annual international day against drug trafficking on Monday, police said.
The drug burn came as UN experts warned of increases in the production of opium, heroin and methamphetamine in Myanmar, with exports threatening to expand markets in South and Southeast Asia.
Myanmar has a long history of drug production linked to political and economic insecurity caused by decades of armed conflict. The country is a major producer and exporter of methamphetamine and the second largest producer of opium and heroin in the world after Afghanistan, despite repeated attempts to promote alternative legal crops among poor farmers.
In the country’s largest city, Yangon, a pile of seized drugs and precursor chemicals worth $207 million was incinerated. The drugs destroyed included opium, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, kratom, ketamine, and methamphetamine, also known as ice.
The burning coincided with the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.
Authorities also destroyed drugs in the central city of Mandalay and in Taunggyi, the capital of the eastern Shan state, both closer to major drug production and distribution areas.
Last year, authorities burned a total of more than $642 million in seized drugs.
Experts have warned that violent political unrest in Myanmar following the military takeover two years ago, which is now akin to a civil war between the military government and its pro-democracy opponents, has led to a surge in the production of drugs.
Opium production in Myanmar has boomed since the military took power, and poppy cultivation increased by a third last year as eradication efforts have slowed and the faltering economy has pushed more people into the opium trade. drugs, according to a report. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime report earlier this year.
Estimates of opium production were 400 metric tons (440 tons) in 2020, rising slightly in 2021, and then increasing in 2022 to about 790 metric tons (870 tons), according to the report.
The UN agency has also warned of a large increase in recent years in methamphetamine production, driving down prices and reaching markets via new smuggling routes.
The military government says some ethnic armed organizations that control large tracts of remote territory produce illicit drugs to finance their insurgencies and do not cooperate in the country’s peace process because they do not want to give up the profits they make from drug trafficking. Historically, some rebel ethnic groups have also used drug profits to finance their fight for greater autonomy from the central government.
Most of Myanmar’s exported opium and heroin, along with methamphetamine, goes to other Southeast Asian countries and China.