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Police in northern Burma’s Kachin State are questioning members of anti-drug vigilante group Pat Jasan concerning a violent brawl between the group and local opium farmers in Waingmaw Township last week.
The chairman of the Baptist Church backed group, Tu Raw, said the regional police requested eight individuals report on Wednesday for questioning in connection with the incident on 25 February. Hundreds of the group’s members were part of a bloody confrontation with local opium growers as they moved in to slash poppy fields in the Waingmaw area.
“The police summoned eight individuals but some of them aren’t our group’s members and some were away travelling so only four turned up,” said Tu Raw.
The statement issued by Waingmaw police on 1 March reported “lawless behaviour” among brawlers and stated that officials at the scene failed to keep the situation under control.
Tu Raw said he has spoken to some of the Pat Jasan members questioned by police as part of the first round of preliminary investigations into the incident.
“They questioned Fr Zon Deng on Wednesday, about the incident in Waingmaw where they went to destroy poppy fields but we don’t know any other details,” he said.
The confrontation on 25 February saw buildings set on fire and at least 30 individuals injured across both sides. On the same day an overwhelming majority of lower house MPs in Naypyidaw voted to pass an urgent proposal calling on the government to support civilian groups tackling drug-related issues, and to protect them from reprisals.
However Union Solidarity and Development Party MP Sai Kyaw Soe of Mongpan Township, Shan State, criticised the policy. He said vigilantes had employed violent and lawless methods of punishment including publicly flogging drug users.
Opium production has boomed under weak law enforcement in Kachin and Shan States. The region contributed the vast majority of the Asian Golden Triangle’s 823 metric tonne output of opium in 2015.
Addiction is rife in the region, where many use cheap opiates both for medicinal purposes and recreational drug taking.
Pat Jason has drawn the ire of some locals, after its members raided towns in combat-style camouflage fatigues. Last week the group cancelled its poppy slashing mission in Waingmaw and returned to Myitkyina. The decision was made after the state government warned that it could not take responsibility for the group’s safety in the case of more possible confrontations.