Wanyin ill-informed choice for drug free project
More than two years after the Yawngkha drug free project was abandoned by Thailand, Burma’s latest Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein, on his 29 April-1 May visit, reportedly proposed another project in a locality hitherto unknown to the outside world.
The Yawngkha project, supported by the Thaksin administration, was launched in 2002 amid sharp reactions from its critics, among whom was Mom Chao Bhisatej Rajani, a member of the royalty and Director of the Royal Project in Doi Ang Khang on Chiangmai’s Fang border. “Was the area (Yawngkha) a poppy cultivation area (before the crop substitution project started)? It was not,” he told Bangkok Post, 19 February 2004. He added that while those who benefitted from the royal project he was working with were the people who had lived in the area for decades and had once earned a living from growing poppies, those in Yawngkha were Wa newcomers after the local people were forced out.
The Wa leadership had moved an estimated 125,000 people, according to a report by Lahu National Development Organization (LNDO), from the Sino-Burma border in northeastern Shan State to the Thai-Burma border, opposite Chiangrai, in the south between 1998 and 2001.
The project was also accused as a plot to remove the anti-junta Shan State Army (SSA) that is active in the area.
Three years later, the project was hastily suspended after the Wa’s 496kg heroin shipment was seized on 10 September, “although we are still sending them materials, whether they be seeds or medicines, when they ask for them,” according to a staff member of the Doi Tung Development Foundation established by the late HRH Princess Mother.
With 6 years of bitter experiences behind them, Thai authorities have agreed to make an orientation trip to the proposed area “at the earliest convenience,” according to Janya Sramatcha, head of the Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board northern sector.
Wanyin, also written Banyen, is a comfortable 35 miles (56km) south of the Shan State capital Taunggyi. During the British days, it was a 219 square mile princedom and a member of the Federated Shan States. Its famous son was Prince Sao Tun Yin, who was said to have won a distinguished medal for his valor during World War II. (SHAN’s cartoonist Harn Lay is his nephew).
After the princes’ relinquishment of their traditional powers to the elected Shan State Government in 1959, Wanyin became part of Hsihseng township, whose administrative seat is 30 miles (48km) further south.
In 2010, after the junta-drawn constitution comes into effect, Wanyin will be part of the PaO Self-Administered Zone, made up of Hopong, Hsihseng and Panglawng townships.
The Zone’s nominal head is expected to be Khun Aung Kham Hti, leader the ceasefire PaO National Organization (PNO), who reportedly believes he has “fulfilled my life’s mission” by achieving an autonomous status for the PaOs, who together with the Palaung have the second largest population in Shan State. He had concluded peace with the ruling military council in 1991 and had participated in the constitutional National Convention openly on the side of Burma’s generals.
One factor that Wanyin is different from Yawngkha is that its native inhabitants are involved in the cultivation and production of opium poppies. The area, since 2005 when the Wa declared itself opium free, has become Shan State’s biggest opium producer.
To add to that, the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) also appears to be in ample control of the area, unlike Wa, where junta authorities maintained only nominal presence. 4 light infantry battalions 423,424,425 and 426, are stationed in the township, the last two in Wanyin itself.
So far perfect for any crop substitution project. The only joker in the pack is the Shan State Nationalities People’s Liberation Organization (SNPLO), popularly known as “Red PaO” (in contrast to the PNO which is “White PaO” to the ordinary people), another PaO dominant ceasefire group that is active in Hsihseng township and the neighboring Mawkmai township in the east.
Split into three factions last year, one of them led by Khun Chit Maung surrendered to the SPDC on 6 May 2007. Another led by Khun Ti Hsawng and Khun Thurein went back to the armed struggle. The last faction led by the ageing old hands like Tarkeley, Sein Shwe and Soe Aung Lwin is still sticking to their guns and the ceasefire at their Nawng Htao base, southeast of Hsihseng.
One issue that cannot be overlooked is the bitter rivalry between the PNO and the SNPLO, which has deepened by the former’s apparent subservience to the SPDC. The SNPLO, especially the remaining ceasefire faction, is known to be highly motivated and was one of the 13 ceasefire groups that had called for more powers in order to manage the state’s affairs during the National Convention.
With the current volatile political atmosphere, intensified by reports of the ruling junta’s plan to subdue both the opposition parties and the ceasefire armed groups before 2010, the Wanyin project could be caught in the crossfire if launched prematurely.
The safe bet would be to launch the project only after 2010 and when it becomes clear that all the main political issues: democracy and state’s rights are resolved.