The Opium Supply

The Golden Triangle had favorable weather in the early 1990s, which resulted in record opium crops. By far the largest producer is Myanmar, which until 1988 had attempted to reduce illicit opium production, strike at illicit refineries, and interdict shipments of illicit drugs. In 1988, however, the military government shifted its police and military away from drug-control efforts, to suppress domestic political opponents. This policy did not shift during the 1990s, despite constant efforts by the United States to have Myanmar take more effective antidrug actions. Myanmar produces over 50 percent of the world's opium.

Laos, isolated and largely ignored by the West since 1975 when the Communist Pathet Lao seized power, cultivated opium in its nine northern prov-inces—about 20 percent of Myanmar's production. Partly because of the 1990 collapse of the Soviet Union, Laos's principal trading partner and ally, the Laotian government has entered into a number of cooperative agreements with Western nations. Opium production decreased by 16 percent from 1998 to 1999, due mostly to severe weather. However, Laos still accounted for 11 percent of the production in the region.

Thailand is more important as a TRANSIT COUNTRY for Myanmar's opium and heroin. Thailand's already marginal production dropped 38 per cent in 1999, accounting for less than one percent of Southeast Asia's potential production. A traditional producer of opium since the mid-1800s and a net importer of heroin, Thailand's opium is grown in the northern highlands by nomadic hill tribes who are not tied to Thailand culturally, religiously, or politically. Opium cultivation in Thailand remains illegal, so the government has sponsored both eradication and crop-substitution efforts in the north.

China has become a major narcotics transit point because of its open border with Myanmar, its location adjacent to the Golden Triangle, and its excellent transportation and communication links with the trade ports of Hong Kong and Macao. Much of the heroin processed from opium by the Kokang Chinese in the Golden Triangle transits through Yunnan, Guangxi, and Guangdong prov inces by road to Hong Kong for overseas distribution.

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