YANGON: Myanmar’s commercial hub Yangon will soon see tighter controls at its port as authorities try to clamp down on transnational crime. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told Channel NewsAsia that it will introduce a new US$600,000 inspection training programme, the first of its kind in Myanmar.
Myanmar has had to confront rising levels of trade in illegal goods and substances as it opens up the economy. The country has seen almost-daily seizures of large amounts of drugs such as Yaba, which is a mix of methamphetamine and caffeine.
In 2014, police in Yangon seized about 2 million Yaba pills, and just one year later that number sky-rocketed to 35 million. Since Jan 1 this year, authorities have seized more than 800,000 Yaba pills, about eight times more than the same period last year.
Myanmar’s police have said that drug traffickers have changed their transport routes.
Said Lieutenant Colonel Kyaw Kyaw Win, Lower Myanmar Commander of the police’s Drug Enforcement Division: “Most of the traffickers cannot send the drugs to the Thailand border area, China border area and also Laos. So their trafficking route is Shan state, to across the Mandalay division, Bago division and Yangon division and after that they send to Rakhine state and Bangladesh nowadays."
“This year, we combined with the Yangon division police and every night, we interrogate and (hold) spot checks on the road in every township,” he added.
While observers have commended the increased anti-narcotics police enforcement, it appears that the current drugs trade in Myanmar is expected to get significantly more sophisticated.
“There’ll be pressure for organised crime to use other mechanisms to get the drugs out so that will be airports, seaports, private planes etc and police are having big challenge also. Many methamphetamine labs are really mobile - it’s a car that moves. It’s not like a traditional laboratory that doesn’t move,” said Troels Vester, Myanmar country manager for the UNODC.
“It’s also important to note that when we speak about illegal crime types, we only see the tip of the iceberg. So maybe they seize (the drugs), but the reality is very different and this is very scary when we’re looking at those large amounts."
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has identified shipping containers as a potential means by which drugs can be stored and trafficked and it wants to help authorities fight the problem.
Said Vester: “We will create a specialised dedicated unit that will be profiling all containers going in and out of Myanmar in the Yangon port - import, export, transshipment. So they will learn how to profile high-risk containers (carrying) drugs, chemicals, weapons, illegal money, counterfeits and timber. We will also be teaching (officers) how to search a container because this is a skill set in itself and it can be dangerous work as well.”
BEATING THE ADDICTION
Drugs have devastated the lives of many addicts like Tun Nay Linn, who spent about US$20,000 on Yaba pills over a two-year period. The father of four young children is working hard to beat his addiction.
"I am really worried that I’ll be a bad example for my kids too. That’s why I want to stop using those drugs,” he explained.
Meanwhile, 41-year-old Myo San is trying to escape the clutches of heroin addiction and his key motivation is the welfare of his 70-year-old mother.
“I can’t stand the pain when I don't use it. When the pain starts, I don't care even if my mother’s crying, I only care about where I can get the drug. But after that I feel so bad for my mother,” he said.
Some people have been spooked by the recent increase in the frequency of arrests as well as drug seizures. However, current users and recovering addicts told Channel NewsAsia that it is still easy to get their hands on drugs as they are now more readily available and they are also cheaper today compared to two years ago. There are just about 1,000 anti-narcotics officers in the country, which makes tackling this problem even more of a challenge.