YANGON, MYANMAR -- When Lo Hsing-han visits the Burmese capital these days from his home in the country's far north, he is fond of indulging a passion for golf. This might not seem unusual for a wealthy, 56-year-old ethnic Chinese, except that he has been publicly identified as one of Southeast Asia's leading heroin traffickers, and some of his partners on the links are top Burmese military officers, according to informed sources here.

The Burmese military's chumminess with known drug kingpins like Lo Hsing-han has raised questions about its stated commitment to fighting the illegal narcotics trade.

Some sources who monitor the issue view drug corruption as a problem among individual officers, rather than the institution as a whole. But what is not in dispute is that production of opium, the raw material for heroin, has increased dramatically in Myanmar, whose government last year changed the country's name from Burma. Myanmar is by far the world's biggest source of the drug.

The increase has been especially steep since the United States halted anti-narcotics aid to Myanmar in 1988 after the ruling military junta cracked down on a movement demanding democracy. The United States estimated Burmese opium production in 1988 at 1,280 tons, but by one U.S. estimate, the country produced more than twice that amount last year.

The Burmese government's effectiveness, or lack of it, in combating drug trafficking is at the center of a debate in Washington over whether, and under what conditions, the United States should resume its anti-narcotics assistance program here, which cost more than $80 million between 1974 and 1988. But the issue is inextricably bound up with human rights concerns and with an assortment of ethnic insurgencies, some mounted by what are essentially drug-running gangs masquerading as separatist rebels.

Complicating the problem, analysts here said, is that increasing quantities of Burmese heroin are being smuggled out through China en route to Asian and Western markets, bypassing traditional routes through the Golden Triangle, the opium-producing area that spans parts of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos.

The sources cite what they say are reliable reports that officers of the Burmese army's Northeastern Command based in Lashio are implicated in the trade, and that Burmese customs officials on the Chinese border are instructed not to inspect certain trucks leaving the country.

There are conflicting reports, however, about whether authorities on the Chinese side also are involved in the trafficking. According to some Western analysts, the Chinese government has shown intense concern about the drug problem, but others assert that authorities in Yunnan Province, which borders Myanmar, have turned a blind eye to it on the understanding that the drugs would not be sold in China.

According to knowledgeable sources, some officials of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) favor resuming the Burmese aid program as the best way to fight the growing heroin trade and gather information about traffickers. However, the State Department has raised objections on human rights grounds, and the General Accounting Office has criticized the aid program as ineffective anyway.

"The DEA wants to unlink human rights and narcotics," said one informed source. "The DEA wants to stop the heroin trade and {feels that} to do that, you have to deal with the Burmese army. And the State Department says that's like dealing with Hitler."

A dispute also has arisen over the volume of opium production in Myanmar, with the CIA estimating it at 2,600 tons last year and the DEA putting the figure closer to 1,600 tons, sources said. But even the lower figure represents a record crop -- more than a six-fold increase over the 260 tons produced in Myanmar in 1976.

According to a report last year by the General Accounting Office, the Burmese government has used U.S. anti-narcotics aid ineffectively and refused to allow adequate U.S. monitoring of the program. In Myanmar, "corruption facilitates illicit trafficking and makes effective action against narcotics difficult to sustain," the report said. It alluded to "narcotics-related corruption among government and military officials," but provided no details.

In a September 1989 U.S. congressional hearing, Sen. Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) likened the Myanmar of reclusive strongman Ne Win to Panama under its former military ruler, Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega. "Ne Win is nothing more than an Asian Noriega," Moynihan testified. "His army has for years protected the operations of Khun Sa, the notorious opium warlord of the Golden Triangle. Burmese army defectors tell of officers moving heroin down {Myanmar's} roads and diverting U.S.-provided helicopters for counterinsurgency campaigns."

Under the anti-narcotics program, the United States has supplied Myanmar with 28 helicopters, six transport planes and five Thrush aerial spray aircraft, the GAO noted. Informed sources in Yangon, formerly Rangoon, say there have been "credible" reports that the military has used the helicopters in counterinsurgency operations against rebels of the Karen ethnic minority, who have been fighting the Burmese central government since 1948 but have not been linked with drug trafficking.

During the 1980s, the Burmese Communist Party -- the largest insurgent organization, with an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 guerrillas -- succeeded in taking over a major part of the lucrative opium trade to compensate for dwindling support from China. But the party virtually disintegrated in April 1989 following a mutiny by members of the Wa hill tribe who made up the bulk of the guerrilla force.

Using Lo Hsing-han as an intermediary, top military officials promptly forged friendly relations with leaders of the Wa, who continue to engage in drug trafficking, informed sources said. Lo Hsing-han, who began his trafficking career as a progovernment militia commander, was publicly identified by a U.S. official in 1972 as Southeast Asia's "opium king." He was jailed on rebellion charges in Myanmar from 1973 to 1980, but has since reemerged as a major drug kingpin, according to anti-narcotics sources in the region.

Capitalizing on Lo Hsing-han's introductions, the army since early this year has been using the Wa to fight the ethnic Shan rebels of opium warlord Khun Sa, a former ally of the Burmese military who was seen as having grown too powerful. He was indicted last year in New York on heroin-trafficking charges, but remains at large in the Golden Triangle. Moynihan has publicly described the junta's new alliance with the Wa as merely a "change in business partners."