Myanmar has delayed by five years its deadline to eliminate drug production within its borders, a senior official said Monday, as the impoverished nation struggles to stem a growing narcotics crisis.
Authorities are "very concerned" about a rebound in poppy cultivation over the last six years in Myanmar, the world's second-largest opium producer, while amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) are also surging, said deputy police chief Zaw Win.
Due to "threats posed by ATS" and to achieve a reduction in poppy cultivation, Myanmar's narcotic control board has "extended its drug elimination to 2019", he said at the opening of six nation talks in Yangon. The previous target was 2014.
He added that Myanmar's authorities were "doing our best" to help stem the flow of drugs in the region.
Officials from China, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam have gathered in Myanmar for days of talks on a worsening drugs crisis, which the United Nations has warned poses a threat to public security.
A minister-level meeting in the capital Naypyidaw on Thursday is expected to produce a regional declaration on the issue.
Zaw Win told delegates that it was "crystal clear that (the) methamphetamine problem is growing rapidly", adding that "more and more international drug syndicates are becoming involved".
"Illicit drug production and trafficking are closely linked to instability, human security and insurgency at the border areas, which creates serious challenges to the ability of law enforcement agencies," he said.
The drugs trade is closely linked to Myanmar's long-running insurgencies in remote areas bordering Thailand, Laos and China -- known as the golden triangle -- with ethnic minority rebels widely thought to use drug profits to fund operations.
As part of its reform drive, Myanmar's quasi-civilian government has reached tentative peace deals with most major armed ethnic groups.
But Gary Lewis, regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in December said the ease of production of methamphetamine in small laboratories, along with distrust between the rebels and authorities meant that some groups could decide to "hedge their bets".
Around 5.9 million methamphetamine pills were seized in Myanmar in 2011, almost double the figure for the previous year, the UN said in a December report, although seizures are likely to represent only a fraction of the amount produced.
Myanmar was once the world's largest producer of illicit opium until it was replaced by Afghanistan in 1991. But after years of decline, poppy cultivation again began to rise in 2007.