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UN Reports Sharp Fall in Burma's Opium Output  - 2004-10-11

A new U.N. report says that Burma, the world's second-largest producer of opium, has reported a 29 percent decline in poppy cultivation and a 54 percent drop in opium production during the past year. U.N. officials, while praising these improvements, warn the gains may not be sustainable without additional international funding. The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, in its annual assessment on Burma, reports a dramatic decline in opium production in the past year. The decline maintains a trend started in 1996, and was described by U.N. officials as "spectacular."

The report revealed a 29 percent drop in Burmese poppy cultivation in 2004, to 44,200 hectares, far below the peak of 163,000 hectares in 1996. The forecast output of Burmese opium for the period was down 54 percent, to 370 metric tons.

Jean-Luc Lemahieu, the U.N.O.D.C. representative in Burma, says the central government's ceasefire agreements with ethnic minorities in the opium-producing border regions, plus government support for crop substitution programs, have been key contributors to the fall in output.

Mr. Lemahieu says the key element was the greater stability that has been achieved in the border regions through cooperation between the government and the minorities.

"I think in the region we have entered a totally different era," he said. "The era of instability throughout the region, the era of the proxy armies operating, and wealth out of Myanmar across the border, that has finished."

Much of the remaining poppy cultivation is found in the Shan States, which form Burma's portion of the so-called Golden Triangle. This area, located where Burma, Thailand, and Laos meet, is the second-largest opium-producing region in the world, after Afghanistan.

Officials said the main market for Burma's opium, which is eventually refined into heroin, is China, fueled by that country's fast-growing economy and improved transportation infrastructure in Yunnan Province, which borders Burma on the north.

The report said China's rising demand combined with Burma's falling output has led to an 80 percent rise in opium prices. U.N. officials praised the figures for Burma, but they said more international funding was needed to assist in crop reduction and substitution programs if the declines in output are to be sustained.