Myanmar ‘crazy drug’ tops agenda at border talks with Bangladesh

Bangladeshi children while the time away at a garbage dump along the river Buriganga in Hazaribagh area in Dhaka, at risk from colossal impacts of environmental disasters and drug trafficking. Bangladesh and Myanmar are holding a border conference to curb the smuggling of a highly addictive drug known as “crazy medicine”. ( AP file photo)
Updated 06 April 2019

Myanmar ‘crazy drug’ tops agenda at border talks with Bangladesh

  • Yaba, also known as “crazy medicine, usually comes in the form of colorful, candy-like tablets
  • The highly addictive stimulant is produced in border areas of Myanmar and smuggled into Bangladesh

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Moves to curb the smuggling of a highly addictive drug known as “crazy medicine” will top the agenda at a five-day border conference between Bangladesh and Myanmar.

The stimulant yaba — a mix of methamphetamine and caffeine that usually comes in the form of colorful, candy-like tablets — is produced in border areas of Myanmar and smuggled into Bangladesh.

The Dhaka government has “declared war” on the drug and stepped up measures to counter smuggling operations. In 2016, up to $29 million of yaba was seized by Bangladeshi authorities.

High-ranking border talks between the two countries began on Saturday in the Myanmar capital Nay Pyi Taw.

The 11-member Bangladesh delegation is led by Maj. Gen. Md Shafeenul Islam, the Border Guard director general, while the 17-strong Myanmar group is headed by Brig. Gen. Myo Than, the country’s police chief.

Bangladesh’s focus at the talks will be on the production of yaba in Myanmar and the smuggling of the banned drug across the 270 km border between the countries.

“It’s a very difficult situation,” a Bangladeshi security analyst, Maj. Gen. (rtd) Mohammed Ali Sikder, told Arab News. “The Myanmar army has a vested interest in this drug trading and that’s why they are not much interested in stopping its spread.

“Bangladesh needs to make Myanmar understand that the spread of yaba is a threat not only for Bangladesh but also for the security and stability of the region.”

Use of the drug is spreading rapidly across Asia and even as far as Australia and the west coast of the US.

The border talks will also examine joint security issues, attempts to stop Myanmar nationals trespassing on Bangladesh territory, and repatriation of jailed citizens of both countries.

Security experts hope the discussions will help “restore mutual trust” between the countries amid efforts to counter the activities of separatist groups from Myanmar, which are active in the border region and favor hideouts in neighboring Bangladesh.

“We need to develop some understanding with Myanmar to halt these separatist groups’ activities. We can introduce joint patrolling or joint surveillance on the border, which will help in the trust-building process,” Sikder said.

He said the strengthening of “mutual trust” between the countries will also help with the repatriation of millions of Rohingyas to their homeland Rakhine.

Bangladesh has tightened surveillance on the Myanmar border after declaring it will not accept any more Myanmar nationals.

More than 800,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh from strife-torn Rakhine since August 2017, flowing a brutal military crackdown that the UN claims has “genocidal intent.”

Exclusive: St. Kitts & Nevis PM aims to ‘cement ties with the Middle East’

Updated 51 min 27 sec ago

Exclusive: St. Kitts & Nevis PM aims to ‘cement ties with the Middle East’

  • Prime Minister Timothy Harris emphasizes ‘enduring appeal’ of Saint Kitts and Nevis amid a global pandemic
  • Dual-island nation has announced a discount in the amount needed to secure citizenship for a limited period

DUBAI: After the turmoil and tedium of the last few months, a distant island getaway is probably what tops most people’s dreams. One Caribbean destination, surrounded by sparkling sand and turquoise waters, is intent on using its natural landscapes to nurse people back to normality — and build commercial bridges to the Middle East in the process.

In an interview via Zoom with Arab News, Prime Minister Timothy Harris noted with satisfaction that his country was home to a number of individuals from the Middle East, including the GCC countries. But his ambitions are clearly much bigger than that.

Harris, who was re-elected to a second term as prime minister of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis on June 5, says he will continue to deepen the dual-island nation’s relations with the GCC region.

“We intend to open an embassy soon in the UAE,” he told Arab News. “This will further cement our ties to the Middle East region and to the UAE specifically.”

With their relative affluence and large expatriate populations, GCC countries constitute a key part of the catchment area of the Citizenship by Investment (CBI) program of St. Kitts and Nevis.

“What the CBI program offers applicants is the advantage of mobility,” said Harris, adding: “In the context of St. Kitts and Nevis, it also offers citizenship in a nation that is democratic, peaceful and safe.”

(Full Arab News interview with Prime Minister Timothy Harris)

His government is also counting on efficient processing of citizenship applications to help it stand out in a crowded field.

Amid the coronavirus disease pandemic, some, particularly for those hailing from troubled countries in the Middle East, see a silver lining: A discount on the citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Harris has announced a time-limited reduction in the contribution required to secure citizenship. The government of St. Kitts and Nevis has decided to temporarily reduce the family minimum contribution by $45,000 to $150,000. However, the minimum contribution for a single applicant remains at $150,000.

Basseterre, capital of St. Kitts and Nevis. (Supplied)
A single applicant seeking economic citizenship normally contributes at least $150,000, while the cost for a family of up to four comes to $195,000. But from July 7 until the end of this year, families of up to four people will be able to secure citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis at the discounted rate.
The decision was influenced by the global fallout of the COVID-19 crisis and the efforts of the Harris government to find creative ways to stabilize the economy and put it back on the path to the growth rates it had enjoyed over five years preceding the pandemic.

Harris is upfront about his objectives. “This limited-time offer will provide the resources to help us successfully fight COVID-19 and enhance the safety nets for those who have lost their jobs or income as a consequence," he said.

(St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris talking about his country's COVID-19 response)

“The CBI program is crucial to our growth and development. The effects of COVID-19 have also destabilized our economy. Without the CBI program we would have been in serious danger.”

The St. Kitts and Nevis CBI program grants citizenship to individuals of high net worth and their families, who get visa-free access to 156 countries, including EU member states and the UK.

Migrate World Ltd is one of the authorized representatives for the CBI program for the Middle East and Africa. Speaking to Arab News in May, Moe Alhaj, CEO of Migrate World Ltd, said: “There’s been a notable increase — of around 40 percent — in applicants from the Arab world during the pandemic.

“The individuals that the program caters to in the Middle East are largely from Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia.” The CBI program does not accept applicants from Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

(St. Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Timothy Harris talking about his country's citizenship program)

During the pandemic, CBI officials say, the program has witnessed a 40 percent increase in applicants from families hailing from the Arab world. Arab News could not independently verify the figure.

What is undeniable is that while the coronavirus crisis continues to ravage countries across the globe, particularly those in North America, the Caribbean region has largely been spared high caseloads.

The total population of residents in the Caribbean is just under 45 million. As of July 27, the number of confirmed COVID-19 infections stood at 91,907. The nations with the highest number of cases are the Dominican Republic with 64,156; French Guiana with 7,332; Haiti with 7,315 cases and Puerto Rico with 5,416. 

Aerial view of Black Rocks Beach on St. Kitts. (Supplied)

St. Kitts and Nevis had one of the lowest numbers. By May 19 all of the 16 cases on its two islands had recovered, although one new case was announced on July 4. There have been no deaths. The islands went into lockdown on March 31 when just eight cases had been declared. It was then extended until April 18 and then again to April 25.

“We began an aggressive public education campaign in our schools and workplaces, security forces and health-care workers early on,” Harris told Arab News. “As cases rose, we were at a high level of alertness and citizens and residents complied, so we were able to stop the spread efficiently.”

The CBI program was launched in St. Kitts and Nevis in 1984 as a way to assist the island’s economy, which had suffered due to the collapse of the sugar industry, and to stimulate foreign direct investment inflows.



- 53,821 = Population of St. Kitts & Nevis

- 92.5% African

- 3% Mixed

- 2.1% White

- 1.5% East Indian

“Clearly, size does matter and being a small nation state with limited resources, we had to find unique ways of bringing in investment that would help the country thrive from year to year,” Harris told Arab News.

“While COVID-19 has placed the world under enormous strain, St. Kitts and Nevis’s record to date of zero hospitalizations and zero fatalities from the disease underlines the character and enduring appeal of our great country.”

With alluring beaches, laid back Caribbean lifestyle and faraway location, the offer is hard to refuse — if one’s pockets are deep enough.


Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor