Shan and Kachin researchers say that Burma’s ruling junta are backing candidates for the Nov. 7 election who are prominent in the drug trade along Burma’s borders with Thailand and China.
Myint Lwin and Kyaw Myint were cited today at a Bangkok press conference as well-known Shan State-based narcotics bosses who will stand for the junta’s proxy party—the Union Solidarity and Development Party—in the upcoming polls. Zah Kung Ting Ying, a former New Democratic Army-Kachin leader, will run for election as an independent, according to Kachin journalist Lahpai Nawdin.
“Most of the poppy-growing areas in Shan State are under the control of militia groups backed by the Tatmadaw [Burmese army],” said Shan researcher and journalist Kheunsai Jaiyen.
Despite a decade-old drug eradication programme, some of which is supported by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, areas under drug cultivation have increased in Shan State, according to the Shan Drug Watch Newsletter.
Forty-six of 55 townships in the region are poppy-growing areas, as the Tatmadaw’s presence in Shan State has increased to 150 battalions—five times the number there to fight Chinese-backed Communist rebels in the 1970s and 1980s.
With soldiers earning a miserly US $22 per month, troops live off the land, taxing opium and fostering village militias to undertake the work, including the metamphetamine trade into Thailand, which has more than tripled in the past year, according to statistics from Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board.
Traders often pretend that the drugs come from Wa areas, as this intimidates buyers and traffickers into allowing the consignments to pass unhindered, as they fear reprisals from the United Wa State Army (UWSA), according to Kheunsai Jaiyen. He says that the junta-controlled methamphetamine trade into Thailand is now twice that run by the UWSA, a group the United States has designated an international narcotics trafficker.
The Shan-based findings tally with reports previously published by the Palaung Women’s Organisation, which also pointed out the Burmese army’s involvement in the narcotics trade. Lway Aye Nang said on Wednesday that areas where the Burmese Army is stationed are not only drug-producing, but are seeing a rising level of drug addiction among young people.
Northern Kachin State is experiencing a “heroin epidemic,” according to the Thailand-based Kachin News Group.
Myitkyina University, which one expert described as “the academic center of Kachin State,” is simultaneously a “heroin haven” he said, with church groups estimating the the majority of the 3,000 students are now addicted.
Ethnic militias involved in the drug trade apparently try to sell as much opium, heroin and methamphetamine as possible to buy weapons, in advance of a Burmese army attack, thought to be imminent after the elections.
Repeated demands that ethnic militias join a proposed border guard force under junta control have been rebuffed by the larger groups such as the UWSA and the Kachin Independence Army. A recent meeting between various militias, some of which are involved in the drug trade, reportedly discussed the possible formation of united front should violence break out after the elections.Show