With drug production on the rise in the country, there is no indication that Burma’s ruling military regime will meet its drug-free deadline, according to Shan Drug Watch 2009-2010 report which was launched today.
“It is because the regime is more interested in taxing the opium than in destroying it. And its policy is also to allow its local militia to deal in drugs, including methamphetamines, in exchange for policing against resistance activity.”
During the 2009-2010 poppy season, there were 46 out of 55 townships in Shan State growing opium. Most were grown more in northern Shan State particularly in areas under the control of the Burmese Army and its militias than in areas under the ceasefire groups, it said.
In 1999, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) embarked on a 15-year plan to eradicate the cultivation and production of all drugs in Burma by 2014. The total townships targeted were 51: 43 in Shan State, 4 in Kachin, 2 in Kayah or Karenni and 2 in Chin states.
But the Burmese regime could make only 32 out of 42 targeted townships “poppy free” in the first two phases of its drug elimination plan, between 1999 and 2009, the report said. “This shows how the regime is falling way behind its target to be opium-free by 2014.”
Similrly, there is also no sign that the election will bring any change to the flow of drugs. In fact, the Burmese regime is still allowing its local militias to be increasingly involved in the drug trade as they are part of its regime’s anti-insurgency apparatus, it said.
“The regime is now favouring the militia over the ceasefire groups. The pressure on the ceasefire groups is giving the militia the chance to take over their trafficking routes and set up new refineries, particularly along the Thai-Burma border.”
Khuensai Jaiyen, Editor- in -Chief of SHAN and a Shan Drug Watch researcher said, “Most ceasefire groups, including the United Wa State Army, have faced increased military pressure and restrictions after refusing to come under the regime’s control as Border Guard Forces. Then the favoured status of the militia has enabled them to overtake ethnic ceasefire groups as the main drug producers in Shan State.”
According to Shan Drug Watch, numbers of junta-backed local militias are increasing. For instance, in northern Shan State alone there are about 400 different militia groups.
The Burmese Army has been recruiting and forming militia battalions across the country given Naypyitaw’s policy to set up one militia battalion in each village tract since early 2008.
“The militias are being rewarded for their political allegiance to the regime. In exchange for supporting the government, they are allowed to act as local warlords, often dealing in drugs. They are now stepping into the vacuum left by the Wa and setting up new drug refineries along the Thai-Burma border,” Khuensai said.
“The junta’s militias now produce twice as many “yaba” or methamphetamine pills as the UWSA. But there is still a lot of misunderstanding among the international community about the role of the militias in Burma.”
Most of the estimated 50 refineries along the Thai-Burma border are run by militia groups, who not only produce and trade in drugs, but also run protection rackets for drugs coming through their territory, according to the report.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2010 World Drug Report also said that Burma produced 330 tons of opiates in 2009, accounting for 17 per cent of global cultivation, while methamphetamine seizures skyrocketed from one million tablets in 2008 to 23 million in 2009. Opiates, especially heroin, are the most prevalent drug in the country.
The report said the regime however is still claiming that it will meet its target of a Drug Free Burma by 2014, and the generals are certainly hoping to receive increased international aid to support their War Against Drugs, after they become a “legitimate” government.