Drug Czar Rebukes Anti-narcotics Deal Between Yunnan, Wa Army

By Htet Naing Zaw 7 December 2017

NAYPYITAW — The chief of Myanmar’s counter-narcotics police force has criticized the signing of an agreement between China’s Yunnan Province and the United Wa State Army (UWSA) to cooperate on drug eradication.

Yunnan Province government officials and UWSA leaders signed an agreement on Friday in Panghsang, the capital of the Wa Self-Administered Division, to work together to eradicate drugs and grow substitute crops in the division.

“The Yunnan government’s decision to sign an agreement directly with the UWSA can cause misunderstanding between the two countries,” Brigadier General Mya Maung told reporters in Naypyitaw at the launch of the UN’s Myanmar Opium Survey 2017.

At a meeting on drug eradication efforts in November in Kunming, China, Myanmar made it clear that China should consult with the Union government before signing any bilateral deals to fight drugs with Myanmar’s subnational authorities along its border.

“We’ve said very clearly that they can sign [memorandums of understanding] and letters of agreement on growing poppy-substitute crops only with the Union government,” Brig-Gen Mya Maung said. “They can’t sign agreements with self-administered regions and state governments unless they are approved by the Union government.”

“Perhaps there is some misunderstanding about the policies of the Union government and political practices in areas that share a border with China,” he added.

He said China’s team at the meeting in November was led by the deputy standing general secretary of the National Narcotics Control Commission of China and included officials from Yunnan’s provincial government. The two countries, he said, agreed to get started on a poppy-substitution project in relatively stable parts of northern Shan State.

Political analyst Yan Myo Thein said the agreement between the UWSA and the Yunnan government was not unusual because the UWSA has been viewed as a distinct entity in Myanmar for a long time.

And because they share a border, he added, they may be cooperating in other areas as well.

“Unless political problems are solved through political means, the UWSA will remain a distinct entity,” he said. “We need to build a true federal democratic Union promptly. Only then can similar problems and challenges be reduced.”

The UWSA signed a ceasefire deal with the military regime in 1989. But it opted out of signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the government of U Thein Sein in 2015, saying it was unnecessary because the truce it reached with the previous government was holding.

It boasts of the largest and most powerful army among Myanmar’s ethnic armed groups with an estimated 30,000 troops and leads other armed ethnic groups along the Myanmar-China border in the Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee, which is demanding an alternative to the NCA.

The head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Jeremy Douglas, who attended the report launch, urged armed ethnic groups to join Myanmar’s fight against the illicit drug trade.

The total area of opium poppy cultivation in Myanmar has decreased significantly in 2017 to 41,000 hectares, down 25 percent from the 55,500 hectares recorded in 2015, according to the report.

The report also reconfirms the link between conflict and opium cultivation in Myanmar, and that insecure areas with active insurgencies continue to produce at levels similar to 2015

Myanmar’s opium cultivation reached a low in 2006 but increased in 2013 before starting to decline again the following year, said Home Affairs Minister Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe.

In June, the UWSA claimed opium poppy fields had been completely eradicated from the southern part of the area it controls along the Thai border, more than a decade after it adopted policies to combat drug production.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.