The Burmese army commander in chief led a delegation to discuss plans to eliminate illegal drugs in a meeting with officials from the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) on Saturday, said a report in the Shan Herald on Monday.
Army head Min Aung Hlaing was accompanied by regional army commanders from Kengtung, Lashio and Kholam.
The Wa delegation was led by Vice President Xiao Minliang, accompanied by Zhao Guo-an, Li Zhulieh and Sai Hsarm. The Mongla delegation led by President Sai Leun and Vice President Hsan Perh.
The meetings came one day after Home Minister Lieutenant General Ko Ko announced that Burma’s 15-year master plan to eliminate drugs scheduled to end in 2014 had been extended to 2019.
The annual Shan Drug Watch report issued on June 26 said that a political settlement to the armed strife in the region would be the key to winning the war against drugs in Burma, particularly in Shan State, where no major players can claim innocence, said the news agency.
The UWSA 171st Military Region has scheduled an ad hoc meeting this week at Hwe Aw, opposite Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao District to discuss a crop substitution program, said the report. The Shan State Army (SSA) South has been invited to send a representative to participate, said an SSA source.
The SSA had presented a six-year program to eradicate drugs to Naypyitaw on May 19 at the second Union-level meeting in Kengtung between the two sides.
Meanwhile, an unconfirmed report said the Army has instructed its units and the Army-run People’s Militia Forces “to keep their hands clean” from drugs, said the Shan Herald, and to conduct a survey to gather useful information on how to suppress drug cultivation in the area.
On August 15, Mizzima reported that Burmese authorities warned that the country's drug problem is “very dangerous” now, after seizing more than 1.4 million amphetamine pills and 116 kilos of heroin in July.
“It's getting worse,” an official told Agency France Press. “Although the country has vowed to be drug free by 2014, it can only be opium free because of the problem of stimulant tablets.”
Most of the stimulant tablets were seized in the eastern border areas, but the drugs are making their way to Rangoon, officials said.
Amphetamine production and poppy cultivation are one source of revenue for some armed rebel groups, say government officials.
Burma is the world's second-largest opium poppy grower after Afghanistan.
Shan State is a major source of methamphetamine tablets, according to the UN, which estimates that global seizures of amphetamine-type stimulants nearly tripled between 1998 and 2010, reflecting a fast-growing demand.
In July, Mizzima reported that the UN drug agency said it was “encouraged by the recent cease-fire agreements and the fact that the national authorities have expanded the areas in Shan State in which the UN Office of Drug Control (UNODC) is allowed to work.”
Gary Lewis, the UNODC Bangkok representative, said, “Solve the challenges of chronic poverty, decreasing rural food security, and armed conflict – and you can begin to draw farmers away from poppy.”
Alternative livelihood support is needed if growers are to be weaned off this double-edged source of income, he said.
“To be effective we need to give farming communities alternatives which can provide a sustainable basis for them to earn a livelihood,” said Lewis. “Farmers grow opium poppy to buy food, pay off debt and have a cash income to pay school fees and health expenses.”