Myanmar unveils huge drugs bust

Large quantities of heroin and methamphetamine have been unveiled to the international media near Myanmar’s border with Thailand inside the so-called golden triangle.

The Burmese authorities claim the US$100 million drugs bust has shut down three major laboratories. It allegedly led to the seizure of around 43 million meth or “yaba” pills and 33kg of heroin that would have been exported across Asean.

The Kutkai area of northern Shan State hosts factories producing cheap, caffeine-cut methamphetamine pills, heroin and crystal meth, also known as ice. 

Myanmar is the world’s biggest producer of crystal meth and the authorities are often keen to show large-scale seizures to the media.

Myanmar’s area within the golden triangle – which also straddles Laos, China and Thailand – is largely a no-go zone for the authorities.

“This is the biggest seizure of the year … the whole world is fighting drugs,” said military spokesman, Major General Tun Tun Nyi. 

The price of yaba triples as it crosses into Thailand and Malaysia. Huge seizures by the Thai police fail to affect the street price, suggesting only a tiny proportion of the drugs are seized. 

Highly addictive Burmese ice sells for approximately US$150,000 per kg in Australia.

Drugs from lawless areas of Myanmar are also transported to China and Bangladesh and on to Seoul, Tokyo and Sydney.

In June 2019, Myanmar’s military said it seized more than Ks6 billion (US$4.4 million) of yaba pills and drug-making chemicals in Tachileik Township in Shan State near the Thai border.

The area is largely controlled by powerful rebel armies and organised crime empires and the Burmese army or Tatmadaw is rife with corruption and also involved with the drugs trade.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has said that action on money laundering and better drug rehabilitation programmes are required to tackle organised crime behind the drugs trade.

The UN agency said the Asean drugs trade was worth more than US$60 billion a year although other observers believe the figure is higher.

Myanmar seized around US$374 million worth of drugs last year, according to its anti-drugs police.

In an embarrassing episode for Myanmar’s military, a helicopter carrying the defence attachés from the US, Indonesia and other embassies in Yangon had to crash land after the drugs unveiling. 

Only the pilots suffered minor injuries, the authorities said.



The surreal Drug Elimination Museum in Yangon praises the military’s role in tackling drugs production. Picture credit: Asean Economist