Heroin Production and Trafficking in Indo-Burma Border
T. Siamchinthang

Today, the Indo-Burma border is the worlds biggest heroin trafficking
area and heroin is frequently described as Burmas most valuable
export. Since Burmas military regime, then called the State Law and
Order Restoration (SLORC), seized power in Burma in 1988, opium
production, from which heroin is refined, has risen to over 2,030
metric tons annually, amounting to 60 per cent of world supply.
Heroin from Burma has usually supplied the North America and
Australia markets while previously most of the heroin sourced in
European originated from the Golden Crescent, Pakistan, Afghanistan
and Turkey. Over the past two years, a growing portion of the
European heroin market has been Burmese heroin trafficked out of
north-west Burma.

Heroin production in northwest Burma is burgeoning and new refineries
are appearing. The improvement in drug enforcement in neighbouring
Thailand and China since the early 1990s has served to open up new
trade routes for both raw opium and heroin from Shan State to the
plains around Mandalay, through Chin State and Sagaing Division to
north-east India.

According to Images Asias November 2004 report, Most of Burmas opium
for conversion into heroin is grown in Shan State, in the infamous
Golden Triangle region. Despite the military juntas claims that they
are actively combating drug production and distribution, many areas
of Shan State saw massive increases in poppy cultivation after they
came under the control of military regime.

The Burmese military has been laying landmines in the border areas
where India, Bangladesh and Burma meet since mid-1997 in an attempt
to prevent militant insurgency. High-level anti-insurgency
authorities from Burma and north-east India have increasingly
profited from the narcotics trade, taking bribes not to send Burmese
military troops into areas where refineries are located. Large
amounts of narcotics are carried through official border crossings in
north-east India, including at the Moreh-Tamu border point, as well
as across paths over the mountains that form much of the border
terrain. In north-western Burma, there are three new drug-related
trends, all of which involve the participation of Burmese higher

(i)  Opium production is increasing in the Chin and Naga hills.

(ii) Heroin refineries have been established in the north-western

(iii) Heroin trafficking from the Shan State through north-west Burma
into north-east India is increasing dramatically.

The plain areas in north-west Burma are primarily inhabited by ethnic
Burmans, while the hills are settled by Nagas, Chins (who refer to
themselves as Zomi) and the Kukis. Like the Zomis in Chin State, the
Kukis and Nagas have formed armed resistance organizations which are
fighting against the Burmese military regime for various degrees of
political autonomy. There are also Nagas, Zomis and Kukis in the
Indo-Burma border areas fighting for autonomous regions in India.
Some insurgents are fighting for independence in territory that
includes parts of Burma, India and Bangladesh. The largest Naga
resistance organisation, the National Socialist Council of Nagaland
(NSCN) split into two factions in 1988. The faction led by
Isaac-Muivah (NSCN-IM) has been especially active in Indo-Burma
borderlands while the faction led by Khaplang, a Burmese Naga
(NSCN-K), has in the past been more focused on fighting the Burma
Army. The Zomi Re-Unification Organisation (ZRO) and its armed wing,
the Zomi Revolutionary Army (ZRA), and the Kuki National Army (KNA)
are also active in Chin State and north-east India.

Cultivation of Opium Poppies

Previously, numbers of Zomi villagers based in the Tedim area of Chin
State and in Sagaing Division produced relatively significant amounts
of opium. As some farmers under pressure from military extortion,
forced labour and relocations find it harder and harder to survive
growing ordinary crops the temptation to grow opium has increased. In
northern Chin State along the Indo-Burma border, most of opium poppy
fields are found around the Tedim township but there are a few
optimum cultivation areas in Tonzang and Than Tlang townships. In the
south, in areas such as Paletwa township, the climate is not
conducive to growing opium. Opium cultivation also takes place in the
Naga hills of Sagaing Division.

Production of Heroin

In the past, mostly opium was trafficked into north-east India.
However, since heroin factories have begun to appear in Chin State
and Sagaing Division in the early 1990s, locally produced opium as
well as opium from Shan State are now refined in the area.  According
to the Geopolitical Drug Dispatch, Heroin Laboratories and drug
export routes have now shifted to the south west (from Kachin State
and the Chinese border).  Major drug production units are now
operation along the Chindwin river near the North-East India Border,
under direct protection by the Burmese Army, far from zones
controlled by the India North-East rebels and from the notorious
Golden Triangle rather than heading up to the Chinese border, trucks
leaded with raw opium and heroin began heading down the Central plain
to the South around Mandalay.  Shortly afterward, other sources in
India reported that the north-east region of Nagaland, Manipur and
Mizoram were flooded with heroin. (The Geopolitical Drug Dispatch,
Edition No. 24, December 2004).

As reported in the Geopolitical Drug Dispatch, a string of six new
refineries were identified along the Chindwin River, close to the
north-east Indian border:

1) North of Singkaling Hkamti, near Tamanthi where the Burma Armys
52nd Regiment is headquartered

2) Homalin (222nd Regiment Headquarters)

3) Moreh and Kaleymyo (89th, 228th and 235th Regiment Headquarters)

4) Tedim (89th Regiment Headquarters) 

5) Paletwa on the western edge of Chin and Arakan States. 

For the first time refineries are being established in traditionally
white or areas where there is no north-east Indian rebel presence and
close to major Burma Army installations. Most of the opium and heroin
trafficked over these routes from Shan State enters Kalay and Tahan,
a Sub-Division of Kaleymyo, where there is a heroin refinery.
Observers report that in Kalaymyo, Sagaing Division, Burma Army
officials have established heroin refineries inside their main
military camp. According to locals, heroin produced from this
refinery is sent to north-east Indian insurgents, particularly the
United National Liberation Front (UNLF) and the Peoples Liberation
Army (PLA) in Manipur Valley, the United Liberation Front of Assam,
(ULFA) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN)-Khaplang

Trafficking Routes                                                   

North-west Burma and north-eastern Indian states extend from Sagaing
Division to Tamer to Manipur and Kalay/ Tedim to Mizoram.

>From the main refinery at Kalaymyo, under the control of a
businessman who works with well-known drug-traffickers from
north-west Burma as well as the army, there are three major drug
trafficking routes (see map for major routes):

1) To the north towards Khampat and Tamumoreh and from there to
Imphal, Manipur

2) To the west towards Rikhawdar/ Champhai and from there to Aizawl,

3) To the south-west towards Lunglei and continuing north to Aizawl.

Other trafficking routes to Indias north-east include:

1) from Khamti area through Noklok to Magokching in Nagaland

2) from Tamanthi and Homalin to Somra and from there northwards
through Jessami to Kohima in Nagaland

3) From Paletwa to Alikudam in the Chittagong Hills Track of
Bangladesh, to Coxs Bazaar and Chittagong.

4) Some heroin is also trafficked over the Arakan State border into
Bangladesh, then on to India.

Most of the heroin trafficked to India passes through Tamu to Moreh,
Chandel District of Manipur State. Within north-western Burma, heroin
is often transported by the police officers, soldiers and prison
guards when they are ordered to escort prisoners from their work
sites back to towns. From there, large amounts of heroin are stashed
in army conveys, which travel to the border avoiding inspection at
the check points along the way. Moreover, the traffickers pay Burma
Army officials a fee for carrying shipments and to pick-up the heroin
at border towns such as Tamu. From there it is brought into India
both in trucks and by individuals. Drugs coming from Burma into
Manipur are mostly sent to Patna, one of the major drug distribution
centres in India, and to three other distribution points; Kathmandu,
Delhi and Bombay. From their, they are further trafficked on to the
international market, which is now overwhelmingly reliant on Burmese


The consequences for India, Burma, Bangladesh and the international
community are extreme. In Burma the addiction rate has increase
dramatically over recent years. The World Health Organisation
believes there are over 600,000 heroin addicts in Burma, more than 2%
of the population, and double this number of users of drugs.
Non-government organisations working in the region believe the real
number may be two or three times this again. The dire economic
situation in Burma is contributing to the rise of an opium-based
economy in the areas reliant not only on opium cultivation but on
narcotics trade. Addiction to heroin in the north-east Indian states
of Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland has skyrocketed. According to Bertil
Lintner, there were 12,000 drug addicts in Burma in 1989. Two years
later, there were at least 25,000 addicts. In the north-east Indian
states there are more than 90,000 HIV/AIDS carriers, identified as
heroin addicts who shared needles to inject their drugs.  Manipur, a
state of only 1.2 million people by 1992 had the highest incidence of
drug-related AIDS infections in India.


There is a direct correlation between the expansion of military
control in north-western Burma and the increase in the production and
trafficking of drugs along the Indo-Burma border. As locals in these
inter-state borderlands find it increasingly difficult to make ends
meet because of extortion, forced labour, and other demands enforced
on them by the Burmese military regime, they have become more willing
to plant poppies. The payment of bribes to local authorities, happy
to supplement their meagre income, ensures that poppies can be grown
and heroin produced even in the border areas close to Burma Army
bases. Drugs are transported by or with the collusion of Burma Army
and intelligence personnel. Moreover, the military juntas involvement
in the heroin trade is being enhanced and facilitated by the
expansion of roads in the north-east India along which a growing
number of army vehicles are circulating that can carry narcotics
without being checked. With no concerted attempts as yet to stem the
flow of narcotics through north-western Burma, the twin plagues of
increased addiction and rapidly spreading HIV/AIDS continue to
devastate the region.


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