CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Burmese authorities in the Shan State border town of Tachilek seized about 200 kilograms of heroin along with a number of firearms on Tuesday, before it was about to get smuggled into to northern Thailand, police said, adding that three suspects had been detained.
Anti-Drug Force No. 30 Police Capt. Phone Kyaw Oo told The Irrawaddy that the squad had received a tip about a 10-wheeler truck that was arriving from Mong Hsat Township and due to cross the border.
He said his officers brought the truck to a halt on Tuesday and the drugs and guns were found in a hidden compartment under the truck’s flatbed area that was carrying cement bags.
A total of 665 heroin blocks weighing 199.5 kilos worth about US$3 million were seized, along with two .38 handguns, two magazines, 18 bullets, one shotgun, 45 Remington bullets, and one unnumbered M-79 grenade launcher with 10 grenades, according to Phone Kyaw Oo.
“We are still questioning the three detainees about where it [drugs and arms] would have been sent to and who the owner is,” the police captain said, adding that the truck’s driver Ai Than was detained along with his colleagues Ai Sai and Ai Su.
A news report in Thai newspaper The Nation, published earlier this week said the operation had been conducted in cooperation with Thai authorities.
Tuesday’s operation is the latest in a number of large drugs busts carried by authorities along the Burma-Thai border in recent months.
In mid-September, a vehicle was seized carrying chemical fluids used as precursor drugs for producing methamphetamine on the Tachilek-Mong Hsat road. Several suspects reportedly fled after an exchange of fire with officers.
In July, Burmese police seized more than US$2.3 million worth of opium and several automatic weapons in Tachileik. In Burma’s south, in Tenasserim Division, authorities seized about 2.4 million Ecstasy pills valued at more than $17 million in August, in what is believed to be the largest drug bust in the country’s history.
A Tachilek resident said the busts had become more frequent in recent months but doubted that the actions would stem the drugs trade as the ring leaders and major drug producers were not being targeted.
“[The forces] have seized drugs many times, but the main producers still can’t be found,” he told The Irrawaddy, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear for retribution.
“As far as I know, the large seizures of drugs mostly come from People’s Militias, which are under the control of government. Most of the times, arms were seized along with drugs. But they [authorities] do not inform the public about follow-up actions,” he said.
“Both the police and the army know who are producing heroin and where it is produced. They just did not take actions. They just started these arrests this year. However, they do not arrest drug barons. It seems that only those who carry drugs will be prosecuted,” the man said.
Opium and meth have long been produced in northern Burma, where the trade is directly tied to the country’s decades-old ethnic conflict, which continues to fester in many parts of Shan and Kachin states.
Ethnic rebel groups, criminal gangs, pro-government militias and local authorities are said to benefit from the lucrative trade, either by producing and smuggling the drugs into Thailand and China, or by taking bribes.