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Leaders from six Karen armed groups have formed a task force in order to combat drug use and production in the eastern Burmese state.
The Karen National Union (KNU), Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA), Karen Peace Force (KPF) and Border Guard Force (BGF) met at the BGF’s headquarters in Shaw Koke Ko Myaing township in Myawaddy on 8 July.
They formed an anti-narcotic joint-committee and aim to introduce a drug-eradication programme by 15 July.
Col Saw Paw Doh, a battalion commander in the KNU’s armed wing Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), said the committee was formed at the request of civilians living in the state who are concerned about widespread drug use among young people.
“After this meeting, we will start taking action, and so I would like to advise those who are in the drug business to stop at once what they are doing,” he said.
Three representatives from each of the six armed groups will sit on the committee.
Alongside a drug-eradication programme, the task force say they will built two detention centres, one in Shwe Koke Ko Myaing and one in Hpa-an District, to incarcerate those charged with drug offences.
“Today we formed a joint-committee tasked with eradicating drugs and I would like to urge all the Karen youth and armed groups to assist with our efforts,” said Col Saw Chit Thu, BGF commander and chairman of the anti-narcotic joint-committee.
Karen State has been plagued by the effects of drug production for decades and as general trade with Thailand continues to increase, opportunities for drug smuggling have risen with it. Border crossings between Karen State and Thailand are a major gateway for the international trade of methamphetamine pills in particular, which also make there way into local towns.
Nan Khin Htwe Myint, the National League for Democracy’s Karen state chairperson, said the party has been receiving complaints from the public as to the rising drug problems of six of seven townships in eastern Burma.
“We received letters of complaint from members of the public about drug problems in almost every township [in Karen State]. We learnt that there are drug manufacturing businesses in Myawaddy while young students at schools in six of seven townships in the region are badly addicted to drugs,” she said.
According to the Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG), methamphetamines, or ya-ba, are so widely available that pills are openly sold in small shops in Karen villages, which the group says is responsible and will lead to addiction and mental health problems.
And with drug addiction comes crime, says KHRG, who has documented multiple drug-related killings in the area.
Significantly implicated in that crime, say KHRG, are the ethnic armed groups themselves, despite each army’s stated efforts to quash the drug trade.
The Karen BFG, a group of ethnic militiamen under government control, are “primarily responsible for the production and sale of drugs, and for drug related violence,” according to KHRG.
DKBA leader Na Kham Mwe has a bounty placed on his capture by the Thai government for his alleged role in cross-border methamphetamines trafficking.
The villagers that appealed for a greater clampdown will hope that the unified effort may stem the flow of illicit drugs and the social problems that go with it.