The Golden Triangle is the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers.The name “Golden Triangle”—coined by the CIA—is commonly used more broadly to refer to an area of approximately 950,000 square kilometres (367,000 sq mi) that overlaps the mountains of the three adjacent countries.
Myanmar is the world’s second largest producer of illicit opium, after Afghanistan and has been a significant cog in the transnational drug trade since World War II. According to the UNODC it is estimated that in 2005 there wеrе 430 square kilometres (167 sq mi) of opium cultivation in Myanmar.
The surrender of drug warlord Khun Sa’s Mong Tai Army in January 1996 was hailed by Yangon as a major counter-narcotics success. Lack of government will and ability to take on major narcotrafficking groups and lack of serious commitment against money laundering continues to hinder the overall anti-drug effort. Most of the tribespeople growing the opium poppy in Myanmar and in the Thai highlands are living below the poverty line.
In 1996, the United States Embassy in Rangoon released a “Country Commercial Guide”, which states “Exports of opiates alone appear to be worth about as much as all legal exports.” It goes on to say that investments in infrastructure and hotels are coming from major opiate-growing and opiate-exporting organizations and from those with close ties to these organizations.