Myanmar Fighting a Losing Battle Against Opium Addiction

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Myanmar Fighting a Losing Battle Against Opium Addiction

Also: Singapore housing market surges, endangered Malaysian sun bears returning to the wild.

Some Thursday ASEAN links:

In Myanmar, opium and heroin addicts don’t hide in abandoned buildings or dark alleyways to get high. Drug abuse has become so common in some villages that dealers sell in broad daylight in public places. When police or military officers arrive on the scene, it’s not to break up the illegal activity – they come to buy and use.

In opium-growing areas, such as the village of Nampakta, officials estimate that half of the population is addicted. Myanmar, formerly the world’s largest opium producer, is experiencing a resurgence in poppy cultivation as the government seeks truces with rebel groups.

“The UN Office on Drugs and Crime estimates the country produced 870 tons of opium last year, a 26 percent increase over 2012 and the highest figure recorded in a decade. During the same period, drug eradication efforts plunged … The decrease was linked to efforts to forge peace with dozens of ethnic rebel insurgencies that control the vast majority of the poppy growing territory,” wrote AP. “Nearly a dozen ceasefire agreements have been signed with various groups, but several insurgencies, including the Shan State Army and the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, continue to hold out. If Thein Sein goes after the rebels’ main source of income, the drug trade, he risks alienating them at a delicate time.”

However, some villages – such as Nampakta – are under government control. Residents have pressed local officials to crack down on the open air drug markets to no avail. They claim that drug dealers pay off security officials or simply turn them into users.

Over in Malaysia, good news for one of the country’s most threatened animals: Officials at the Sabah Wildlife Department seized five sun bears, likely destined for the illegal wildlife trade. The animals will be returned to the wild.

Malaysian sun bears are targeted by wildlife traffickers because the bile produced in their gallbladder fetches a high price in the world of traditional Chinese medicine – despite having no scientifically proven medicinal qualities. Captured bears live excruciating lives, often trapped in tiny cages that restrict their movement with an open incision used to extract the bile.

The bears – four male and one female – will be released into the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Center, where they will be protected from poachers.

Meanwhile in Singapore, demand for new private homes surged in February. The city-state’s Urban Redevelopment Authority announced that developers sold 724 units last month, compared with 565 in January, marking a 28 percent increase.

The increase was attributed to the sales of executive condominiums and mass market homes in suburban areas.