More than 839 million US dollars (£666 million) worth of seized illegal drugs were destroyed in Burma on Friday to mark the annual International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, officials said.
The country has long been a major source of illegal drugs for East and South-East Asia, despite repeated efforts to crack down.
In the country’s biggest city, Yangon, a massive pile of drugs worth an estimated 144 million US dollars (£114 million) went up in a spectacular blaze. It included opium, heroin, methamphetamine, marijuana, ketamine and the stimulant known as ice, or crystal meth.
The blaze burned so fiercely it threatened to set fire to an awning set up for the occasion that firefighters hurriedly doused with water hoses.
Authorities also destroyed drugs in Mandalay, Lashio and in Taunggyi, the capital of eastern Burma’s Shan state, all areas closer to where the drugs are produced.
The government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime announced in May a record haul of narcotics.
Over roughly a six-week period ending in early April, the combined police and army operation seized around 18 tons of drugs in and around a village in Shan state, including almost 200 million methamphetamine tablets, they said.
Burma has a long history of drug production, fuelled by decades of civil war. The government says some ethnic armies – which control large swathes of remote territory – use narcotics to fund their insurgencies. But critics have accused elements of Burma’s government and army of profiting from the trade themselves.
The UNODC’s regional representative for South-East Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, recently said there is now clear evidence of the involvement of trans-national organised crime groups.
The country’s vast, mountainous and forested borders mean producers can move large quantities of cheaply produced drugs into neighbouring countries with little fear of capture.
The area where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand meet became known as the Golden Triangle when it was notorious for the production and trafficking of opium and its derivative, heroin.
In recent decades, production has largely switched to synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine, and now increasingly to synthetic opioids such as fentanyl.