Asia plans to be rid of illegal drugs

BANGKOK, Thailand, AP

Southeast Asia and mainland China made their strongest ever political commitment to work together to fight illegal drugs Friday, endorsing a plan to eliminate or drastically reduce the problem by 2015.

The move was supported in a joint declaration by 34 countries, including the United States, European and other nations in the Asia-Pacific, who have attended a three-day international antidrugs congress in Bangkok.

“We have a high level political consensus,” Sandro Calvani, regional representative of the conference organizer, the United Nations International Drug Control Program, told reporters at the close of the conference Friday.

Never before had officials as high as ministerial and deputy prime ministerial level from mainland China and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations gathered for talks specifically on tackling illegal drugs, he said.

Calvani hoped the action plan would win support of international donors. UNDCP estimates US$98 million in foreign assistance will be needed over the next five years to start implementing the plan, which seeks to eliminate opium production by 2008.

Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle, a mountainous region where the borders of Laos, Myanmar and northern Thailand meet, is a leading world production center of opium’s deadly derivative heroin, and increasingly, synthetic drugs like methamphetamine.

ASEAN’s other members are Singapore, Brunei, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The plan aims to promote public awareness of the dangers of drugs; improve treatment of addicts; tackle illicit production and trafficking through better law enforcement; and give growers of drug crops alternative ways of making a living.

Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan hailed China’s support for the plan as a “very, very major step.” This week Beijing also signed a bilateral cooperation agreement with Thailand on fighting drugs.

“It reflects the awareness of China that it needs to work with us in order to solve it’s own problems and that it wants to contribute to the eradication of drugs and drug abuse in the region as a whole,” Surin said.

Much of the drugs produced in Myanmar, the world’s second largest source of heroin after Afghanistan, is either trafficked through or consumed in mainland China, which is itself a major source of the chemicals used to make synthetic drugs or refine heroin.

Mainland Chinese State Councilor Luo Gan on Wednesday described drugs as a “common enemy” that threatened mankind.

Soubanh Srithirath, chairman of the National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision in Laos, a major opium producer, cautioned that the 2015 target was “very ambitious” because of the growing threat posed by methamphetamines. “Now we have … to fight on two fronts at the same time,” he said.