By Aung Hla Tun
YANGON (Reuters) - Authorities in Myanmar seized roughly 21 million methamphetamine pills with a street value of around U.S.$35.5 million near the border with China, state-owned media said on Monday, the country's second largest haul of the contraband.
Although better known for its opium production, Myanmar, a country with restive and porous borders, is a major producer and exporting hub of low-purity pills made primarily of caffeine and methamphetamine.
The pills, which deliver a cheap high, are taken both by recreational users and labourers toiling for long hours who need to stay awake.
The seizure was made in Kutkai township, in northern Shan State, on Saturday, the Kyemon newspaper said, adding that Aung Aung, a truck driver, told police he had been paid to deliver the cargo of tablets to Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city.
Investigation showed the seized drugs belonged to a fugitive connected with another seizure of drugs in Mandalay on March 5, it added.
The seizure was Myanmar's second largest drug bust, following a seizure with a street value of $100 million last year in the commercial capital of Yangon, said Police Col. Zaw Khin Aung at police headquarters in Naypyitaw, the capital.
Myanmar has become an exporting centre for the drug, and police believed the latest seizure was meant to be distributed outside the country, Zaw Khin Aung said.
"The final destination of these big hauls of stimulants is not the domestic market," he added.
Myanmar was the point of origin of methamphetamine pills found across Southeast Asia and beyond, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime said in a report last year.
"Reports of methamphetamine tablets originating in Myanmar and seized in China and Thailand indicate that increasing quantities are being trafficked from Myanmar across their joint borders," it added.
Police figures show 49.95 million of the pills were seized in 2,815 busts across Myanmar last year.
(Editing by Timothy Mclaughlin and Clarence Fernandez)