Burma needs to stop using drugs as a political toolBy Zin Linn Jun 28, 2012 4:24PM UTC
Unless political settlement of long-standing ethnic grievances is reached, the armed conflict and turmoil that fuel Burma’s drug epidemic will never end. That’s according to the Shan Drug Watch 2012 newsletter – ‘New Shan Drug Watch report: political solution needed to end drug scourge in Burma’ – released on International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking (26 June).
Surveys by Shan Drug Watch show that opium production has surged during the 2011-2012 season, as the Burmese government’s 2014 drug-free deadline approaches. Although most townships had been targeted to be drug-free by 2009, poppy growing was reported in 49 out of 55 townships in Shan State.
Most analysts on drug issues pointed to poverty as a major reason for Shan State’s continuing drug problem. Opium crops only need a short time to grow and promptly generate income for impoverished farmers. To stop growing poppy, an alternative cash crop must be provided. According to some political analysts, poppy growing and opium production in Shan State have increased over the past two years due to political volatility in Burma and growing economic despondency caused by cronyism, corruption and unprofessional conduct of the junta.
Lt-Gen Yawdserk, interviewed on the eve of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking, said as long as Naypyitaw is using the drug problem as a political tool, the problem will not be resolved.
“It’s time drugs equal rebels accusations are stopped,” he told SHAN (Shan Herald Agency for News).
He was speaking to SHAN two days after the Thai government presented him and the Shan State Army (SSA) with a ‘Gold Eagle Award’ for cooperation in the campaign against drugs. The award given by Gen Pichitr Kullavanich, Privy Councilor in Bangkok, was received by the SSA representative Sai Aye on 23 June.
The production of illicit drugs in Burma has considerable international, regional and national implications. At the international level, the opium and heroin produced in the country are consumed in Asia distributed through China and Thailand as well as the rest of Asia, also reaching destinations as far away as Australia, North America and Europe.
At the regional level, drugs are at the root of many problems facing the countries of the Golden Triangle today, including the spread of HIV/AIDS fuelled by injecting drug use, corruption of border officials and the influence of criminal elements seeking to undermine the rule of law and fuel further instability in the border areas.
The Shan State Army (SSA)submitted a drug eradication project to the Burmese government on 19 May. Its representatives also met the government-run Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) earlier this month to work out the details. However, no concrete agreement has reached so far.
“We are pressed for time,” he said. “If we wait too long, it’ll be too late to do anything. At the same time, no single agency can deal with the problem on its own. We need cooperation from all to do it.”
Cooperation from all armed groups is also necessary. “It’s time we show the world we can survive without drugs,” he told SHAN.
As said by Khuensai Jaiyen of Shan Drug Watch, Burma Army controlled ‘People’s Militia Forces’ (PMF), set up by the governmen to assist in their operations against rebel forces, have become key players in the drug trade, both heroin and ATS. However, government authorities’ involvement in the tangled drug problem is being easily ignored by the international community since it embraces Burma’s new Thein Sein administration which acts as a reformist.
According to Khuensai Jaiyen, Naw Kham, “Godfather of the Golden Triangle” was arrested in April 2012. News of the arrest of drug lord Naw Kham glossed over the fact that he became powerful in the area by serving as a militia chief in Tachileik under Burma Army’s command. The bursting continuation of drug traffic along the Mekong since Naw Kham’s arrest highlights the urgent need to address the structural causes of the drug problem, rather than just detain new scapegoats, he pointed out.
“It’s time to end the vicious cycle of new drug-lords emerging and being scapegoated over and again. The political root causes of the drug problem must be tackled,” said Khuensai Jaiyen, principal author of the Shan Drug Watch report.
At least six well-known drug lords in Burma represented the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). They are now taking parliament seats along with those elected members of parliament since the 7 November elections, according to Shan Herald Agency for News (S.H.A.N.).
Unless the strategies of the government’s peace deals are truthful, drug trade will go on by far, as the drug is a kind of weapon for the military to grab supreme power. Thus, a negotiated resolution of the basis cause of civil war in Burma is needed to address immediately.
The drug problem has intertwined with the country’s long-lasting political challenges since Burma gained independence in 1948. Underestimation of the impact of drug-trafficking throughout the country may severely damage the designated reform task supported by the western democracies.