Crisis awaits at Wa deadline
Crisis awaits at Wa deadline
Hungry for improved image they are unlikely to be granted, both Rangoon and Wa authorities are set to enforce their opium-free 2005 deadline that will threaten the livelihoods of some 25,000 families in Shan State who are dependent on the opium economy, warns a recently produced debate paper by Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI).
Calling the expected disaster as "The Sword of Damocles", Drugs and Conflict in Burma (Myanmar): Dilemmas for Policy Responses writes, "There is no doubt that the ban will continue to be enforced as planned, and every village in the area seems keenly aware of the deadline."
Already, says the report, 80% of the 13,250 households (106,000 people) in the neighboring area of Kokang, who traditionally grew opium to buy rice are affected by the ban, a situation that necessitates the World Food Programme to bring in emergency assistance. The New Light of Myanmar reported last month 760 tons of rice were donated to 50,000 former opium farmers and their families. "(G)iven the much higher populated Wa hills, the problems encountered in Kokang will repeat themselves many times over in the Wa region if the situation is not dealt proactively," the treatise admonishes.
Anticipating the deadline, Wa authorities had ordered the relocation of 100,000 people along the Chinese border in the north towards the Thai border areas in the south during the past few years, 1999-2001. However, after the difficulties encountered halfway, they finally decided to stop, the paper quotes Central Committee members of Panghsang, the Wa capital, whom they met on 12 September 2003 as saying. (Last year's report by Lahu National Development Organization, Unsettling Moves, had cited a much higher figure. According to it, more than 125,000 Wa people had been displaced.)
The public announcement of the 2005 ban was the result of a meeting in June 1995 between Wa representatives, military government officials and UN Drug Control Programme representatives, who were negotiating for what eventually became the Wa Alternative Development Project (WADP) in Mongpawk, just south of Panghsang.
Despite the problems, "our commitment for the 2005 ban is strong," assured Wa leader Shao Minliang to TNI.
Deploring the fact that "nowhere in the debate on international assistance to drug eradication policies in Burma have the interests of the opium farmer been represented" and "The Wa governing structure is very hierarchical" allowing no space for independent organising outside the existing political structure, the paper says:
"A deadlock situation has been created where the only sensible and humane option would be to extend the deadline while the ones who made the pledge know that doing so would mean risking losing the little credibility they still have left."
The paper ends by calling on the international community to rethink its strategies. "It should develop a policy that supports opium farmers, who have not only been the victims of repressive anti-drugs policies implemented by way of opium bans and international pressure, but also of the Rangoon-focussed political agenda and the demonising of the ceasefire groups by the international community" it says.
The TNI, together with Burma Centrum Nederlands, is hosting a conference on drugs, 14-15 December, in Amsterdam.
For the full report, please visit www.tni.org.