Sandro Calvani

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All the News about Sandro Calvani and his activities from 1997
Golden Triangle tries a comeback
The poppy harvest is ending along the hillsides of northern Burma. Drug traffickers are working to build stocks of opium and refined heroin. Burma has once again become the world’s leading narcotics supplier and its government must exert more effort to fight this problem.
The war on terrorism has handed the dictators in Burma a problem and an opportunity. The Taliban- run drug trade in Afghanistan has been disrupted by the US intervention and the installation of a new, civilised regime in Kabul. Government forces in Colombia have made major inroads on new opium fields in that country. This has restored Burma as the world’s leading source of illicit opium and heroin. The generals in Rangoon will show clearly in the next few months whether their promises to fight drug trafficking are real or lip service.
Nothing has altered the global traffic in heroin so much as the defeat of the Taliban. But victory over terrorism in Afghanistan has not changed the demand for drugs around the world. After drop in demand and production last year, gangs in Burma and Laos have rushed to fill the gap. The new alliance between the United Wa State Army and the 14K triad has worked to fill new orders. There have been marked increases lately in heroin seizures in Thailand and China.
The danger is that the Golden Triangle will soon return to its prominence of 30 seized more than 12 years ago, as heroin producer for the Taliban.
The Burma-Laos-Thailand border region was the undisputed leader in the traffic in opium and heroin. A highly successful string of anti-opium programmes has wiped out significant cultivation of opium in Thailand. The communist regime in Laos dabbled briefly in drugs after its 1975 accession to power, but has since stressed drug campaigns. Burma has long confused propaganda with action, but opium harvests began to drop at the turn of the century, partly by Rangoon action and partly because of drought.
As Burma production dropped, Afghanistan built its crop during the 1990s to more than 3,000 tonnes of opium a year. The Taliban encouraged opium production. The regime seized all harvests and aided trafficking in heroin. In 2000, the regime banned opium growing, and production dropped to 185 tonnes in 2000. Last year, Burma regained its unenviable lead as the world’s top producer, with 68% of the global opium production.
But the Taliban lifted its ban on opium cultivation after one year. Full-scale production had not resumed by the time the regime was ousted. Sandro Calvani, Asian representative for the United Nations International Drug Control Programme, believes Afghanistan will be a minor factor in the global heroin traffic at least for the short term.
That puts a lot of pressure on Burma. One of the closest watchers of the tense situation is Thirapat Santimetaneedol, deputy secretary of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board. He believes as much as 3,000 tonnes of opium is being harvested right now, triple last year’s crop. Chinese police seized more than 12 tonnes of heroin last year -the result of refining 120 tonnes of opium -and have already complained the Golden Triangle output is at "alarming heights".
The generals in Rangoon have alternated statements about their drug policy. On one hand, they have complained that lack of aid has made fighting drug traffickers difficult. On the other, they have promised strong efforts to wipe out drugs. And along the way, they directly encourage the international fugitives Wei Hsueh-kang of the United Wa State Army, Lo Hsing-han and Khun Sa.
As the home of the biggest regional methamphetamine trafficker and the top world heroin peddlers, Burma has reached a crossroads. Within weeks, everyone will know how much opium is in the hands of the Burmese traffickers. Only the Rangoon regime can prevent a return to the drug-driven ways of the old Golden Triangle. Heroin abuse by Thais and others, the continuing spread of Aids and the ability of the three-nation region to battle its worst security threat are at stake.

Bangkok Post, 4 Mar 2002
RP tops amphetamine abuse, says int’l drugs body
THE ABUSE of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) like shabu has increased in the Philippines even as opium, codeine and heroin use has gone down in some East and Southeast Asian countries, according to a report by an international drug regulatory body.

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) said that shabu, or methamphetamine hydrochloride, has become "the most popular drug of abuse" in the Philippines, but did not cite any statistics.

The region’s authorities "continue to make significant seizures" of ephedrine, a substance used in the illicit manufacture of ATS, the INCB said in its 2001 report released last Tuesday at an international conference on drugs at the foreign affairs department.

Dr. Sandro Calvani, the United Nations drug control program representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, made the same observation in a report, "Regional Drug Control Profile for Southeast Asia and the Pacific," that he delivered at the conference.

"Crystal methamphetamine is the favored drug for consumption in the Philippines," he said, adding that 10 percent of the population was drug-dependent.

Police Director Efren Fernandez, chief of the Narcotics Group, agreed with the INCB and Calvani’s findings. He attributed shabu’s popularity among local drug users to its "mass appeal."

"It’s made for the masses; it’s much cheaper than Ecstasy," he said, referring to the drug of choice at nightclubs and parties.

The INCB said there were indications that shabu, also known as "ice," was being illegally manufactured in the country, noting the discovery and dismantling of two large clandestine drug laboratories last year in Batangas and in Pasig City that were secretly manufacturing huge quantities of the illegal substance.

Most of the shabu available in the country is being smuggled in from South China and other neighboring countries, but some of it is now being produced here, said Calvani.

Calvani said the production of shabu here was a growing problem, adding that the Philippines now exports the drug to Japan, Australia, Korea, the United States, Guam and Spain.

"The Philippines continues to serve as a transit point and producer of crystal methamphetamine," Calvani said.

Fernandez maintained, however, that the Philippines neither produces shabu in large quantities nor exports the drug to other countries.

"We don’t grow ephedra, the main ingredient for the manufacture of shabu. We’re just being used as a transit point because of our strategic location," he said in a phone interview.

But he did not discount the possibility that shabu was being produced locally, noting the number of clandestine laboratories that had been detected and dismantled.

Last month, the NarcGroup raided a high-tech shabu laboratory in a middle-class neighborhood of San Juan, which was believed to have been operating for the past five years. Some 500 million pesos worth of shabu was seized in the raid.

Reuters, 2 Mar 2002
UN drug control officials call for more funds to Burma
The international policy of isolating Burma should be reversed to allow more humanitarian funds to areas undergoing opium crop reduction programs, UN officials say. European states, as well as human rights groups, have led the call for severe limits on aid to the military government in Rangoon until improvements are made in its human rights record. But UN officials are arguing against the isolationist policy, saying funds are needed to assist ongoing efforts to reduce the output of opium from Burma’s northern regions.

Reuters, 29 Jan 2002
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Thailand’s anti-opium drive a model for Afghanistan
Thailand’s successful battle against opium production over the past 30 years is a model for war-ravaged Afghanistan, which accounted for nearly 75 percent of the world’s opium production during the 1990s, U.N. officials and Thai officials say.

"The Thai model is being considered to deal with the opium problem in Afghanistan," Sandro Calvani, representative of the East Asia and Pacific wing of the United Nations Drug Control Programme (UNDCP), said here Monday. "It offers good lessons, particularly to have people at the centre in what we do."

This approach emerged during last week’s international donors meeting in Tokyo to help rebuild Afghanistan, adds Calvani.

The 61 countries and 21 aid agencies at that meeting, which was co-hosted by Japan, the United States, the European Union and Saudi Arabia, pledged to give Afghanistan more than $ 1.8 billion in aid in the first year, and $ 4.5 billion over the next few years.

The Thai government, which was among the participants, made a number of pledges -- including aid in reducing opium cultivation -- to help Kabul’s interim government, says Laxanachantorn Laohaphan, deputy permanent secretary at the ministry of foreign affairs.

"We are prepared to train those who will be involved in Afghanistan’s opium control effort," added Laxanachantorn, who was a member of the Thai government’s delegation to Tokyo. "Assistance at the policy-making level has also been considered for the start, since we have expertise in this area."

These moves come in the wake of reports from Afghanistan that farmers in the country’s east have begun growing opium poppies after the defeat of the Taliban regime in November.

In July 2000, the Taliban leadership issued an order banning poppy cultivation in the country in an effort to win international recognition of its government, which was run on extremist Muslim lines.

In fact, its crackdown on opium cultivation was just about the only area that got the Taliban praises from foreign governments, including the United States that later led the bombing of the country after the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

In the post-Taliban era, there is concern that Afghanistan’s cultivation of opium, which is processed into heroin, may return to match the production levels during the late 1990s. This reached a high of 4,500 tonnes of raw opium produced in 1999.

"The ban (by the Taliban) was very effective. But we need an alternative programme like Thailand’s," Calvani said here during the launch of a 199-page book on this country’s success story, "Opium Reduction in Thailand 1970-2000: A Thirty-Year Journey."

Key to Thailand’s success was the "alternative development concept", Ronald Renard, the book’s author, said during the launch. This meant rural development programmes for the communities in the opium trade, offering profitable crops as an alternative and ensuring that the "affected communities were central in this effort, participating in the work".

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej and the royal family took a lead role, too, in plans drawn up to reduce cultivating the poppy crop in the country’s north and north-eastern areas, home to indigenous hilltribe communities, Renard adds.

The king, for instance, had insisted that no poppy plants be destroyed until alternative plants were available for the hilltribe communities to live off, says Renard. "The king identified peach trees as one alternative."

Over the years, some 150 crops, including kidney beans and coffee, were considered viable alternatives to poppy cultivation. Those working with the tribal communities also helped them market their new produce.

Renard also identifies the programme’s sensitivity to the life and culture of the tribal people as another major factor in its success. When the programme got underway in the early 1970s, there was little official knowledge of the tribal people, who engaged in the opium trade openly.

"Government officials met the hill tribe people to assess what they wanted during the three phases of this project," Renard pointed out.

The UNDCP also says that the Thai government backed its anti-opium policies with a steady stream of funds. "Between 1971 and 2000, about 100 (alternative development) projects have been completed and approximately $ 600 million (U.S.) have been invested in alternatives," according to UNDCP data.

The available figures bear out the country’s achievement: its opium output has dropped from an annual 150 metric tonnes in 1972 to about six metric tonnes a year currently.

At present, Burma tops the list of opium-producing countries in South-east Asia’s Golden Triangle region, which also comprises parts of Laos and Thailand and which accounts for more than half the world’s heroin. In 2001, Burma supplied 68 percent of the world’s opium, which was more than 850 tonnes.

"The Thai experience has shown us that we need commitment and resources," said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, UNDCP representative in Burma. "Political will and political leadership are equally important."

Afghanistan needs these same elements to combat opium production and wean communities away from them, he explains. "The lead taken by the Thai king is good example. There was political will from the beginning."

Those working on a blueprint for Afghanistan must also factor in the poverty of the poppy cultivators, Lemahieu adds. "Opium production is related to poverty. It serves as a cash crop to buy food."

These issues have not been lost on U.N. officials like Calvani or the Thai official Laxanachantorn. They both concede that Afghanistan lacks the political stability and will that Thailand had through its king when the crackdown on opium began 30 years ago.

"The challenge in Afghanistan is 10 times bigger," said Calvani. "The country has been destroyed and the political leaders are new. We have still to gauge how the tribal people there will react to attempts by the political leaders to stop opium production."

Laxanachantorn expects law enforcement and crop substitution to emerge as hurdles in efforts to curb opium production in Afghanistan: "The communities will have to be provided with profitable alternative crops. It will be different from Thailand’s."

Reuters, 28 Jan 2002
Human security under threat: Worrying situation in Greater Mekong
HIV/Aids was pointed yesterday as a common threat to human security in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) where the spread of the deadly disease is considerably high along the border. The fears were raised at the Intersessional Meeting of the Human Security Network on Human Security and HIV/Aids hosted by the Foreign Ministry, which was participated by delegates from the Greater Mekong Sub-region, concerned United Nations agencies and regional organisations.

With the concept of "human security" being expanded from merely the absence of armed conflict to fundamental conditions needed for people to live safe, secure, healthy and productive lives, the meeting came to a perception that uncontrolled Aids is a "serious threat" to human security.

The discussion was specifically focused on the worrying situation in the Greater Mekong Sub-region comprising China, Laos, Burma, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand.

The epidemic update shows that currently Cambodia, Burma and Thailand are the only three GMS countries where national prevalence rates exceed 1%.

However, there are also the significant increases registered in some of the world’s most heavily populated countries, such as China, Indonesia, and India. In China, the total number of HIV-infected people was estimated to have exceeded one million by late 2001.

In Laos, though HIV prevalence has remained low up to the present time, high-risk behaviour is still increasing in certain groups of the population, which could easily trigger a national epidemic. For instance, migrant Lao workers in Thailand may become infected after visiting sex workers and carry the virus to their homeland.

Mr Sandro Calvani, a representative of the United Nations International Drug Control Programme, emphasised the spread of HIV among injecting drug users in Greater Mekong Sub-region.

In China, he said 70% of known HIV/Aids infections are related to sharing needles. In Burma, a prevalence of HIV among injecting drug users has sharply increased from less than 1% in 1998 to between 73% and 96% in some areas in 1999. In Thailand, from 1985-87, HIV rates were between 0-1% among injecting drug users in Bangkok. The rate rose to 24% in 1998 and 39% in 1999.

Ghazi Farooq, director of Regional Thematic Working Group on HIV/Aids, UN Regional Coordination Mechanism for Asia and the Pacific, called for urgent and sustainable measures to fight HIV/Aids.

Bangkok Post, 22 Jan 2002
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