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U.S. to Help Myanmar Fight Drug Production : Narcotics: The country has world's largest poppy crop. But human rights groups criticize aid, cite military junta's repression.

June 21, 1995|JIM MANN and RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The Clinton Administration has decided to open the way for broader anti-narcotics cooperation with Myanmar, despite the military regime's continuing repression and its six-year-long detention of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, Administration sources say.

The new policy will permit U.S. officials to give more extensive training to Myanmar's law enforcement units on anti-narcotics efforts.

The United States may also give new aid to the United Nations Drug Control Program aimed at, the sources said, substituting other crops for opium in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

"These are very modest additional initiatives, which do not mark any radical departure in our deep caution about dealing with the regime," one Administration official said. "This has been months and months in the making."

He said the United States will train "carefully selected . . . counter-narcotics units" in Myanmar.

U.S. drug officials estimate that as much as 60% of the heroin sold in the United States comes from opium poppies grown in the "Golden Triangle," the remote area where Myanmar, Laos and Thailand come together. Myanmar alone is said to be responsible for almost 3,000 tons of opium poppies annually, the largest single source of heroin and opium in the world.

The new policy is said to represent a compromise between Administration officials responsible for drug enforcement and those involved in promoting human rights and democracy.

The Administration reportedly turned down U.S. drug officials' requests to give still broader aid--such as aircraft and other equipment--to Myanmar's military junta.

Some human rights groups and members of Congress said Tuesday that they are opposed to any new help for, or cooperation with, Myanmar's military regime, which is called the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC.

"I think it would be a terrible idea, especially when there is a severe retrenchment on the part of the SLORC," said Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), who recently returned from a trip to Myanmar. "Repression [in Myanmar] is increasing. This would send a signal to the SLORC that what they are doing is OK."

A series of interagency meetings within the Administration produced the new policy.

"The result was a very workable agreement, in which human rights interests were protected," one source said. Officials said there may be a written directive, signed by President Clinton, to carry out the new policy.

The driving forces behind the expansion of anti-narcotics efforts with Myanmar have been Lee P. Brown, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Robert Gelbard, assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement.

Brown, in testimony prepared for delivery today at a hearing of the House International Relations subcommittee on Asia, said he has recommended that the Administration "exchange information with appropriate officials to support Burmese unilateral counter-narcotics operations."

He said the recommendations also include U.S. training for anti-drug units in Myanmar "subject to the same U.S. standards and safeguards observed in other countries in which the United States has a counter-narcotics relationship."

So far, the United States has carried out only a single, limited program for anti-narcotics training in Myanmar, which the Administration approved late last year.

"We . . . have a certain degree of law enforcement cooperation currently," Gelbard said at a State Department briefing Tuesday. "We'd like to expand it."

After several years in which the United States sought to isolate the Myanmar regime, the Administration last fall switched tactics and sent a senior State Department official to meet with military leaders in Yangon, formerly Rangoon.

But in the months since then, Myanmar leaders repeatedly have dashed hopes that they might release Suu Kyi.

She has been detained since 1989, a year before opposition forces she had led surged to victory in a democratic election that the regime has refused to honor.

The International Committee for the Red Cross this month abandoned efforts to work with Myanmar's leadership.

"There is no good news on human rights coming out of Burma," John H. Shattuck, assistant secretary of state for human rights, said Tuesday.

Other officials said the Administration's commitment to promoting human rights and democracy in Myanmar has not changed. The Administration is said to be considering some tough new actions that can be taken against the country's military regime if it fails to release Suu Kyi next month, the sixth anniversary of her detention.

"We're satisfied that we haven't undermined anything on the human rights and democracy front" in Myanmar, said one Administration official this week in discussing the new anti-narcotics initiatives.

But that assertion was disputed by Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director of Human Rights Watch/Asia.

"This [new drug initiative] will undermine their own [human rights] policy," he said. "They have told the SLORC that there will be no enhanced anti-narcotics assistance unless there has been progress [in Myanmar] on all three fronts--drugs, human rights and democratization."

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