Unless a political settlement of long-standing ethnic grievances is reached, the fighting, militarization and lawlessness that foster the illicit drug trade in northeastern Burma will continue, the Shan Drug Watch (SDW) 2012 said on Tuesday.
Surveys by the SDW found that opium and amphetamine production has surged during the 2011-2012 growing season, even as the Burmese government’s 2014 drug-free deadline approaches, according to a new report it released today.
Poppy growing was reported in 49 out of 55 townships in Shan State, although most had been targeted by the government to be drug-free by 2009.
Numerous People’s Militia Forces, set up by the Burmese army to assist in their operations against rebel ethnic forces, have become key players in the drug trade, both heroin and amphetamines, said the report.
The report said government complicity in the tangled drug problem in Burma is being conveniently ignored by the international community as it embraces Burma’s new administration and its move to democratic reforms.
News reports in April 2012 of the arrest of Burmese drug dealer Naw Kham, a so-called “Godfather of the Golden Triangle,” glossed over the fact that he built his empire while serving as a militia chief in the Burmese army in Tachileik, on the border with Thailand, said the report.
The full resumption of drug traffic along the Mekong River since Naw Kham’s arrest in Laos in late April highlights the urgent need to address the structural causes of the drug problem, rather than focus on functionaries, the report said. Naw Kham was arrested in Laos and extradited to China, where he was wanted in connection with the murder of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River.
“It’s time to end the vicious cycle of new drug lords emerging and being scapegoated over and again. The political root causes of the drug problem must be tackled,” said Khuensai Jaiyen, the principal author of the SDW report.
The report described disturbing levels of drug abuse among communities throughout Shan State, where it said “ya ba” [methamphetamine] pills are now being openly offered at religious merit-making ceremonies together with tea.
In April, Mizzima reported Burmese authorities destroyed a portion of the huge opium crop, citing a total of 22,432 hectares of illicit poppy plants destroyed across the country between September 2011 and February 2012, according to government anti-drug authorities.
The destroyed fields included those in nine townships in Shan state and Minhla Township in Magway region. The remote locations, where jobs are few, are prime areas for poppy crops.
Mizzima reported that poppy cultivation in Burma has increased alarmingly in the past two years amid fears that the region's worsening economic crisis will encourage even greater growth.
The U.N. has warned that falling international commodity prices and increase political instability in Burma's border area has fuelled fears that many of Burma's poppy farmers will find it impossible to resist the temptation to return to their old ways. In the past few years, there has been a dramatic fall in the area under poppy cultivation and opium production, but these gains have been reversed in the past two years, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's (UNODC) annual survey for 2011.
“The problem of poppy production in the region has been contained but not solved,” the UNODC chief in Bangkok, Gary Lewis told Mizzima. “There have been significant increases, especially in Myanmar, which are threatening to rise further because of the worsening economic conditions faced by former poppy farmers.”
More than 90 per cent of the poppy grown in southeast Asia – Burma, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – is grown in Burma's northeast Shan State.
Authorities say that the Kokang and the Wa are the largest opium producers in Burma's Golden Triangle – which borders China, Laos and Thailand. Both are rebel ethnic groups, with large guerrilla forces, that have cease-fire agreements with the Burmese government.
The Kokang virtually ceased opium production in 2003 and the Wa in 2006, say authorities. But in the past two years both poppy cultivation and opium production have increased.
“The trend is certainly upwards with a significant increase in the land under cultivation in Myanmar,” said Leik Boonwaat, the UN office of drug control chief in Laos, who has also been stationed in Burma. Former opium farmers who already live in dire poverty are looking at increasing opium prices and falling commodity prices, he said.
In the past two years, there has been a distinct upward trend, according to the U.N.'s latest annual report. Although opium production fell a little last year compared to the year before, this was because the yield was worse, it said.
“The Wa leaders may even be forced to renege on their promises to the U.N. and international community if the economic and security situation deteriorates further,” a U.N. drugs official familiar with the problems in Shan State told Mizzima.
Burma has been implementing a 15-year plan (1999-2014) to totally eradicate poppy growing in three phases, each running for five years. The country has entered the third year of its final five-year phase.
To see the full report by the SDW, go to www.panglong.org