Myanmar Sets Fire to $600 Million Seized Drug

On Sunday, authorities in neighboring Myanmar said they had burned $500 million worth of narcotics, as the World Health Organization warns of high methamphetamine production in the Southeast Asian region.

The narcotics bonfires come as the country intends to intensify eradication efforts for World Drug Day. According to the UN, the levels of methamphetamine production in the region have reached historic levels.

Burmese media reported that the government had burned nearly two tons of heroin and more than 630 million “yaba” methamphetamine valued at $642 million in various parts of the country, including Myanmar’s commercial hub, Yangon. Drug batches also went up in smoke in the central city of Mandalay and northern Shan state, authorities said.

However, analysts believe that the move is part of a long-running game of smoke and mirrors played by the governing board, arguing that the Burmese leadership does not take the drug problem seriously.

Independent analyst David Mathieson told AFP the televised drug burns represented “a decade-long” deception by the government on the country’s pharmaceutical industry.

“The military pretends to get serious about drug eradication and the West pretends to believe them,” he commented.

Mr. Mathieson also noted that there was “active military complicity” in large-scale narcotics production to ensure stability in conflict zones.

Conflict zones include Shan state, which the UN has labeled Southeast Asia’s primary source of methamphetamine.

According to the UN, the state is home to militias and has seen relatively little violence against the military since Myanmar’s generals seized power in a February 2021 coup, jailing then-elected leaders.

The Myanmar government held a ceremony in Rangoon, where they placed packages of methamphetamine wrapped in innocuous-looking Chinese tea packets next to bricks of cannabis, bags containing MDMA, and packets of ketamine. Then, they blew up the contraband with small explosions.

Local policemen took photos with the thick black smoke columns rising into the sky as background. Firefighters were deployed to the site, where there was Burmese pop music playing out loud, to ensure safety.

The drug burning came after law enforcement in the region seized nearly 172 tons of methamphetamine in 2021, a figure seven times higher than a decade ago.

According to a UN assessment, drug trafficking from Shan state to Laos, Thailand, and Malaysia is becoming more common. In such countries, drug batches are shipped onward to other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.