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Drug use remains a pressing problem among Burma’s police force, particularly in the northern state of Kachin where opium and meth-amphetamines abound.
A total of 36 police force members have been jailed for drug-related charges since November 2013, said Chief Brig-Gen Win Khaung, with many more suspected users still donning uniforms. The arrests occurred all over Kachin state in what seemed a deliberate systematic attempt to tackle the problem.
All of the indicted officers, some high-ranking, have received five years prison sentences – the maximum for drug use.
“We administered urine tests after suspicions arose,” said Win Khaung. “Thirty-six tested positive and have been sacked.”
The sharp spike in arrest of civil servants is the first sign that the police force has been giving the issue more thought in recent moths.
Bauk Ja, renowned Kachin activist and politician, suggested that the problem runs deeper than the police force would like to admit.
“Some policemen have connections with trafficking gangs, who tip major drug dealers about crackdowns so they can go into hiding,” she said, “and then they’d go around and arrest innocent bystanders.”
Bauk Ja said that about 300 people are currently being detained for drug-related crimes, while the big-time dealers routinely evade authorities.
Burma produces about 17 percent of the world’s opiates. Cultivation is rampant along the country’s eastern border where Kachin State and Shan State meet with China. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has estimated that 1.5 percent of the population in Kachin and ShanStates are addicted to drugs.
*DVB recently interviewed UNODC Myanmar country manager Jason Eligh about drug use and drug trafficking in Burma. See next week’s INTERVIEW INTERNATIONAL.