Shan army seizes ‘heroin factories’

Three military bases in eastern Burma belonging to a pro-government militia group believed to be stocking material for the production of heroin have been raided by the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S).

Around 100 SSA-S troops on 28 February launched coordinated attacks on encampments belonging to the armed wing of the Pa-O National Organisation (PNO)  in Shan state’s Nansang township.

“The militia camps were stocking raw opium and materials needed to produce heroin,” said SSA-S spokesperson Sai Lao Hseng. “The SSA obtained information that they are likely to produce heroin in those places so we cleared them as part of our drug elimination policy.”

Six Pao-O troops died in the assault, Sai Lao Hseng said, adding that his soldiers had seized over 160 kilograms of raw opium and some firearms.

Shan state has long been Southeast Asia’s biggest source of illicit drugs, and once held the distinction of being the world’s top producer of heroin until it was usurped by Afghanistan in the late 1990s. In the place of heroin however has come an explosion of methamphetamine, or ‘yaba’, which is trafficked mainly to neighbouring Thailand.

A report released last year by the Thailand-based Shan Drug Watch claimed that junta-backed militias had taken over ethnic armies as Burma’s main drugs’ producers. Rising hostilities between ethnic armies and the Burmese had, according the report’s lead author, Khunsai Jaiyen, prompted a clampdown on their drug production and mobility.

He told DVB today that Shan militias such as the Nayai and Markkieng are rapidly catching with the former heroin kingpins, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), and that he “wouldn’t be surprised if in the next few years, they are being outdone completely both in the yaba and heroin fields”.

The PNO, whose chairman Aung Kham Hti competed in the November elections last year, was granted a Self-Administered Zone by the Burmese government comprising Hopong, Hsihseng and Pinlaung townships in southern Shan state. According to the ALTSEAN advocacy group, it has been awarded a number of business concessions in the local, and lucrative, gem mining industry.

A damning report by the US State Department yesterday said that Burma had “failed demonstrably” in its proclaimed efforts to eradicate the country’s narcotics industry. The UN Office on Drugs and Crimes estimates that between 2006 and 2009, opium cultivation in Burma increased from 21,500 hectares to 31,700 hectares, despite repeated assertions in state media of success in its elimination programmes.

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