No opium free Burma in 2014 unless…
As the world’s anti-drug day 26 June draws near, Shan Drug Watch, a branch of SHAN, has bad news for Burma’s military rulers: opium output in Shan State is up from last year’s by all accounts, a progress in the opposite direction if their 15 year master plan is taken into account.
The plan’s Phase One (1999-2004) had "prioritized" 22 townships in Shan State. According to Drug Watch, only 7 townships can be reported as worthy of the claim, 3 of whom are under ceasefire groups’ administration.
Shan State Township Free/Not Free Remark
North Mongkoe NF
Kunggyan F MNDAA (Kokang)*
Laokai F MNDAA (Kokang)
East Mongla F NDAA-ESS**
South Kunhing NF
*MNDAA = Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army aka Shan State Special Region #1 or
Kokang, led by Peng Jiasheng (Phone Kya Shin).
**NDAA-ESS = National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State aka Shan State Special #4
led by Sai Leun aka Lin Mingxian (U Sai Lin)
The ongoing Phase Two (2004-2009) is zeroed in on 20 townships. As can be seen in the following table, the success story, for which a steep price is still being paid by the local people, is in the United Wa State Army (UWSA)’s territory.
State Township Free/Not Free Remark
Kachin Karmaing NF
Shan North Pangwai F UWSA territory
Manphang F UWSA territory
Napharn F UWSA territory
Mongmai F UWSA territory
Pangyang F UWSA territory
Wiangkao F UWSA territory
Shan East Mongyang NF
Shan South Hopang NF
If the two phases can serve as examples, there is not much hope for success for the 9 townships in the upcoming Phase Three (2009-2014):
Shan State South Kehsi, Monghsu, Namzang, Yawnghwe and Laikha
Kayah (Karenni) Loikaw and Dimawso
Chin Tonzang and Falam
The last (2007-2008) poppy season also saw increased cultivation, up to 40% in Shan State South and East. However, presumably due to continued pressure from China, the data collectors saw little increase in Shan State North, except in 3 townships outside the target areas: Mongmit, Namhsan and Hsipaw.
Kachin News Group (KNG) also reported that poppy cultivation was on the rise in two more townships: Sumprabum and Putao. "Kachin State is somewhat outside the focus of the world," commented a businessman in northern Shan State. "There are only a few reports on the drug situation coming out of the state. The authorities there therefore feel more at ease to allow poppy cultivation compared to their counterparts in Shan State."
Khonumthung, a news group based in India’s Mizoram also reported cultivation in Tiddim township, Chin State.
The rest of Shan State likewise saw increased cultivation in at least 6 townships: Lawkzawk, Loilem and Mawkmai in the South and Markmang, Mongphyak and Tachilek in the East.
"One thing is also significant," said one of the collectors. "In a number of areas, we saw poppies being grown all year round, 2 crops in some places and 3 in others. So as far as farmers there are concerned, the word ‘poppy season’ is rather meaningless now."
To prove his point, the collector, who naturally wishes to be unidentified, had given Drug Watch a number of photos taken on 16 April, 2 miles east of the Loilem-Panglong motor road. The two towns are located six miles from each other.
Farmers were from the village of Namhu, made up of Shans and PaOs. The fields were also said to be close to a Burma Army outpost.
However, due to insufficient rain, the output, in contrast to the input, was reportedly much lower in several localities except for upland areas. Estimates of the increase range from 5%-20% compared to last year’s.
UN Office For Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported on 11 October 2007 a 29% increase in the cultivation and 46% crease in the output last year.
"One good indicator of the upsurge in the input is the growing piles of dried chicken droppings (used as fertilizers), on the roadside," according to a data collector. "As for the increase in the output, the pointer is the decrease in opium prices."
All these does not mean that Rangoon, or rather Nay Pyi Taw, will not be able to announce an opium free Burma by 2014. Opium can be allowed to grow until 2013, when draconian measures could be employed as it did during the 2001-02 season in the North. The only problem is that such action does not guarantee sustainability.
Which was what happened in Laos, that had "proudly proclaimed itself as opium free" in 2006, according to British journalist Tom Fawthrop, only to allow it to stage a comeback the next year. "What is for sure," according to one international NGO representative who prefers to remain anonymous," the programme was focusing on eradication more than finding alternatives to opium. They pushed for opium elimination before economic development was in place, so they put the cart before the horse."
With strife-torn Burma, it would need more than just an economic development. "Any counter narcotics policy to succeed in Burma must take into consideration the political side of the problem. Political solutions have not been properly explored, but this is the only way to get to the bottom of Burma’s vicious circle linking illicit drugs, insurgencies, reconciliation and democracy," wrote The Nation on 26 January 2006.
Mr Akira Fujino, UNODC regional representative in Bangkok, asked by participants in the forum at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) on 12 September 2007, also agreed that without peace and national reconciliation, there was no way to resolve the drug problem in Burma.
SHAN whole heartedly echoes their view.