Tensions are high in Kachin State after members of anti-drug vigilante group Pat Ja San faced off with local opium farmers on Monday.
Over 1000 members of Pat Ja San were escorted by police on 25 January as they travelled through Sadung and Kanpaikti towns near the Sino-Burmese border to destroy poppy fields.
Pat Ja San received the approval of the regional government for their latest mission to suppress opium production in northern Burma. The group was provided a security detail of 25 government soldiers and policemen. According to the group, there are between 3000-4000 acres of poppy fields in Chipwi, Kanpaikti, Waimaw, Tanai, Indawgyi and Pangwa townships in Kachin State run by local farmers. The group asserts that Chinese investors back opium production in the area.
“To avoid negative consequences, we are negotiating with government authorities on keeping up a security detail. State police and the regional military command observed the situation this morning and provided more police personnel for our security so we should be able to start destroying poppy fields by [Tuesday].”
On Monday, a truck convoy ferrying the vigilante group’s members north from the State’s capital Myitkyina towards Burma’s border with China was forced to stop at a village along the way after receiving reports that local opium farmers were arming themselves and preparing for confrontation, according to the group’s secretary Tang Gon.
“We were informed by local sources in Sadung and Kanpaikti that opium farmers have armed themselves with blunt and sharp weapons as well as firearms to defend their poppy fields and they are about 1000 strong, including drafted local villagers— one person per household,” said Tang Gon on Monday.
He said an earlier plan by the group to destroy poppy fields in the said areas in eastern Kachin State last week was also cancelled after reports of mobs armed with sticks and blades waiting for them along the way.
Dr Tuja, a Kachin politician and former vice-chairman of the Kachin Independence Organisation said while he agreed that there should be a focused effort on narcotic suppression in Kachin State, vigilantism can lead to more negative consequences than positive ones.
“There should be more systematic projects such as educating the opium farmers and providing them with substitute crops. Otherwise these farmers can only rely on poppy growing for their survival and destroying these fields will be seen as destroying their livelihood, provoking angry responses,” Dr Tuja said.