UK and US boycott Burma drugs summit

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BRITAIN AND the United States were criticised for boycotting an international heroin conference in Burma organised by Interpol, the international police agency.

Paul Higdon, director of Interpol's criminal intelligence directorate, said the countries boycotting the conference ought to have used the meeting to launch a dialogue. "A political situation which is viewed by many as a serious problem has held hostage the universally recognised problem of drug abuse," he said yesterday.

Britain and the United States say Burma's military regime has failed seriously to crack down on drugs and has such a poor human rights record that it does not deserve the legitimacy conferred by the conference.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch likened holding the meeting in Rangoon to "holding a convention on weapons of mass destruction in Baghdad".

A recent US government report said Burma accounts for 90 per cent of South-East Asia's opium production and about half the world's total.

The Burmese government says these figures are exaggerated and that, in advance of the Interpol conference, more than 1,000 hectares of poppy fields were destroyed last month alone.

Burma's north-east Shan state forms part of the Golden Triangle poppy- growing area, where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand meet.

Richard Dickens, head of the UN Drug Control Programme in the Burmese capital, agreed the US was exaggerating the amount of opium produced in Burma. Mr Dickens said the West should do more to fund Burma's efforts against the drug trade. "They won't put their money where their mouth is," he said.

Opening the conference, Tin Hlaing, Burma's Interior Minister, said that, "as two of the largest markets for heroin in the world, the US and Britain bear a special responsibility to work with the rest of the international community in every way possible".

Other countries boycotting the conference include France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.