Despite Road Block, Anti-Poppy Campaigners Vow to March On

By Zarni Mann 22 February 2016

MANDALAY — Anti-poppy campaigners encamped at an army checkpoint near the junction of Sadung and Chipwi roads in Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township said Monday they will attempt to continue their mission this week to eradicate poppy fields in the area.

“Destroying poppy fields isn’t a bad thing, and it doesn’t go against the government. If they don’t let us go through, we’ll hold a prayer meeting again on Tuesday, and then we will go through the barriers Tuesday afternoon with the help of God,” said Kham Thu Dam Shung, a campaigner from a local anti-drug group.

A group of about 2,000 members, led by local civil society organizations as well as local Christian mission organizations, were blocked by authorities on Feb. 16 on their way to reach poppy fields in Sadung and Kambaiti sub-townships. The vigilante anti-drug campaigners have said they have since been beleaguered by water shortages and sanitation problems.

“Our mission is to contribute to the government’s plan to eliminate poppy plantations and drug problems. Since we received little support from the government, we now only have God to trust in,” Kham Thu Dam Shung added. “If they want to arrest us, we don’t care.”

According to the campaigners, local authorities have said that the reason for blocking them is to avoid potential flair-ups between poppy farmers and members of the group.

“The authorities said that destroying poppy fields is the responsibility of poppy farmers and that we just need to educate them without destroying their fields by force. Blocking us is a way to ensure our security,” said Naw Taung, one of the campaigners.

“We’ve educated the locals for about two years, but they are still planting poppies and still producing opium. Now is the season to collect the raw opium from the poppy pots, and we doubt that the local authorities are giving time for the poppy farmers.”

In support of the campaigners, locals gathered at the blocked military checkpoint on Sunday and held a prayer meeting. They also urged authorities to open the roads.

Anti-poppy and drug elimination campaigns in Kachin State, driven mostly by local civil society organizations, began about two years ago. The campaigns were temporarily suspended after one campaigner was shot dead and three others injured in January.

Campaigners said that about 1,500 acres of poppy fields in Tanai Township and another 2,000 acres in Waingmaw Township were destroyed in January.