The burnings, to mark world anti-drugs day, follow another year of record seizures of narcotics from the remote borderlands of Myanmar, Laos, southern China and northern Thailand.
A dark legacy of civil war in its frontier regions where government troops and ethnic rebel forces have vied for control of the lucrative trade, Myanmar remains one of the world’s great drug producing nations.
Armed gangs churn out vast quantities of opium, heroin, cannabis and millions of caffeine-laced methamphetamine pills known as “yaba”, these are thereafter smuggled out across Southeast Asia.
An estimated $385 million in opium, heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine tablets were put to flames in three official ceremonies around Myanmar on Monday.
“It’s the biggest burning of seized drugs in (Myanmar’s) history,”
The giant seizures are often touted by Myanmar and Thailand as proof they are making inroads into the vast regional drug trade.
But law enforcement agents say they are just the tip of the iceberg as producers ramp up production to meet growing demand across Southeast Asia and increasingly in Bangladesh and India.
“Almost all of the drugs they burned originated in eastern Shan State, in areas controlled by ethnic armed groups”, the Myanmar police official said.
Experts say yaba use has exploded as ethnic armed gangs switched from exporting all the pills abroad to increasingly targeting domestic users.
Buddhist monks and military officers were among 13,500 people prosecuted for drugs crimes, up 50 percent from 2016, according to data seen by AFP.
Myanmar’s new civilian government is seeking to overhaul stringent anti-drug laws brought in under the former military government.
Current legislation means anyone found with even small amounts of drugs can be jailed for years.
“Handing out harsh penalties for drugs users can’t combat the rise of drug-trafficking in the country,” said the police officer.
Thailand, on the other hand, has the world’s sixth-largest prison population and the tenth highest incarceration rate in the world, largely thanks to its strict anti-drug laws.