Kachin vigilantes at odds with army on drug eradication

Kachin vigilantes at odds with army on drug eradication

A Kachin drug vigilante group has claimed the Burmese army blocked their latest attempt to destroy poppy fields in Burma’s far north.

On Thursday, 4,000 members of the Kachin Baptist Church-backed group Pat Jason set out for the villages of Sadung and Kampaiti, in the state’s Waingmaw Township, to slash opium farms in the area.

Upon arrival in the village Pat Jason troops claim military personnel blocked their path and advised them to avoid conflict with local farmers by standing down, according to group chairman Tu Raw.

“The army cited two reasons for stopping us, first being security concerns, as there is likely to be resistance from the opium farmers and secondly, that we are not an official organisation set up to fight drugs…but this is the government’s responsibility and so officials will act accordingly,” Tu Raw said.

“But we are determined to continue our mission here and are negotiating with authorities for that.”

However Maj Win Aung Myo, of the army’s Northern Regional Military Command that oversees military operations in Kachin State, denied Pat Jason’s allegations in a press conference in Myityina on Wednesday.

Only last month the regional government provided an armed security detail to the group during an earlier mission in Waingmaw.

Drug use is rife in Kachin State communities, with many turning to cheap opiates both for medicinal purposes and recreational drug taking. Burma is second only to Afghanistan in opium cultivation, with the country’s notorious ‘Golden Triangle’ region, which includes intersecting parts of Laos and Vietnam, responsible for the production of some 823 metric tonnes of opium over the last year alone.

Pat Jason has become infamous for raiding towns in combat-style camouflage gear, rounding up suspected dealers and addicts and dishing out public beatings as punishment. Culprits are often sent to faith-based rehabilitation programs run by the group.

In January of this year Pat Jason destroyed more than 2,000 acres of poppy fields in the Hukwang valley in Tanai Township, and more than 4,000 acres across the state. More than 10,000 acres of poppy fields remain across the opium-addled state, according to Tu Raw.

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In the same month, a teenaged member of the group was killed in a suspected retaliation attack – the victim, Lawtaw Tu Seng, 19, had been slashing poppy fields when he was shot with a musket from a nearby area.

Efforts to combat the scourge of drug use throughout the country are continuing, with the Burmese police set to conduct a drug survey in cooperation with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, according to the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control.

Police Maj. Gen. Zaw Win, chief of the Burmese police, said at a 16 February meeting of the first National Steering Committee Meeting on Drug Use Survey that the survey would run for one year. The project, funded by USAIDS, will focus on researching the negative health impacts of drug use and the methods with which narcotics use spreads. Drug suppression, prevention, rehabilitation policies will be a key focus of the study.

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