10/15/2004, 00.00
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As opium production declines people leave the Golden Triangle

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) –Opium production in Myanmar has fallen over the past 12 months and China and Thailand have hailed the reduction as a major success in the campaign to stamp out the region's drug trade. However, the local population which relied on opium for a living is now facing hard economic facts.

Poppy production in Myanmar's section of the Golden Triangle, which borders China, Laos and Thailand, is expected to fall 54 per cent this year, this according to the UN's Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Yangon. The decline is part of a long-term trend. Myanmar's opium production had fallen by almost 75 per cent since its peak in 1996.

As good as the story may be for some, its success has a dark side. Isolated under a military dictatorship the Myanmar economy was largely dependent on opium. Today hundreds of thousands are drug addicts and survive on international aid. UN sources say that disease and malnutrition are growing at an alarming rate and food assistance is inadequate to satisfy local nutritional needs.

"The population of the golden triangle fell by 60,000 [from 200,000 to 140,000], with the most people heading inland in search of a better living," Mr Lemahieu said. "Two out of three private Chinese clinics and pharmacies closed their doors and one in three community schools stopped operating".

The UN official stressed that "China and Thailand are planning to assist Myanmar's economic with specific initiatives but this is not sufficient to meet the needs of the population".

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