Sunday, March 28, 1999 Published at 13:05 GMT
Burma fights opium trade
The opium fields of Burma's "Golden Triangle" of drugs
The Burmese government has been seizing and setting fire to vast quantities of illicit drugs produced in the country's massive opium-growing belt.
"We're going to make Burma an opium-free zone," said Lieutenant Colonel Hia Min of the Burmese Army.
Some Burmese families have farmed nothing but opium poppies for more than a century.
Opium earns them three times more money than less controversial crops like sugar cane or coffee.
So, from an economic point of view, it is proving very difficult to convince farmers to change.
Burma says it needs money to make ensure that the farmers plant alternative crops and do not go back to growing opium.
But Britain led a European boycott of the event because it believes that the army works in collusion with drug barons.
The UK is suspicious of an amnesty granted to one of Europe's most notorious drug barons, Khun Sa, said to be living in luxury in Rangoon.
Burma admits striking a deal with Khun Sa but Colonel Kyaw Thein, of Burma's Drug Abuse Control Committee, defends the policy.
He says: "How many lives would it cost if he was still fighting the government?"
According to the BBC's correspondent in Burma, David Willis, the poppy crop fires have helped convince some international agencies that Burma's generals are sincere in their desire to rid the world of drugs.
Our correspondent says the UK's so-called ethical foreign policy is posing something of a dilemma.
Providing assistance would undermine the existing sanctions policy and lend legitimacy to the regime.
But, he says, it could also achieve a major victory in the fight to keep drugs off Britain's streets.