Burma’s sizeable drugs industry is now largely being controlled by militias working under the auspices of the Burmese junta, experts claim.
The hand played by the once-dominant ethnic armies, such as the United Wa State Army (UWSA), is diminishing, said Khuensai Jaiyen, head of Shan Drug Watch, who was speaking at a forum in Bangkok today.
He added that refusals by groups such as the Wa to transform into Border Guard Forces have weakened ceasefire agreements with the junta, and a clampdown on its drug production and mobility in Burma’s opium-rich Shan state would likely follow.
“The policy against the Wa has begun to change: they used to move freely but now they can’t pass through any checkpoint without being checked,” Khuensai said. “The Wa have to pay the militia to transport their goods.”
Burma once held the title of the world’s biggest heroin producer until Afghanistan ramped up its production in the mid-1990s. In the place of a diminishing heroin trade has come methamphetamine, which is trafficked mainly to neighbouring Thailand.
Powerful individuals involved in some of the militias, which have begun setting up refineries in the border regions, are also running in the 7 November elections, Khuensai said.
He accused candidates of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), Myint Lwin and Kyaw Myint, who are both running in Shan state, of being involved in drug-producing militias.
But the phenomenon isn’t just confined to Shan state. Nawdin Lahpai, editor of the Kachin News Group, said that militias in Burma’s northern Kachin state, which borders China, were sharing profits from drugs sales with the Burmese military, from troop level to Naypyidaw officials.
He added that junta officials allow the drugs trade to flourish and hand militias business favours and military protection in return for them helping to control ethnic groups.
Shan Drug Watch also reports that the Burmese regime’s alleged drugs eradication programme “has fallen way behind schedule, with 46 of Shan State’s 55 townships still growing opium”.
It attributed this to the army’s “reliance on taxation of opium, and its policy to allow numerous proxy local militia to deal in drugs, including methamphetamines, in exchange for policing against resistance activity”.