Drugs Gang Busted at China-Burma Border

By Patrick Boehler 16 August 2012

A transnational criminal group producing and selling large quantities of methamphetamine has been busted in a joint operation by the Chinese and Burmese authorities, the Chinese Ministry of Public Security revealed on Wednesday.

On July 9, Chinese and Burmese police “destroyed a drug production factory in Laukkai, Burma, arrested a total of 11 suspects on both sides of the border and seized 340 kg of methamphetamines,” according to statement by the Chinese ministry’s border security department on Wednesday evening.

The seizure amounted to 347 kg of methamphetamines, commonly known as “ice,” 120 kg of Tramadol painkiller and one firearm with bullets in Laukkai, the capital of the Kokang Self-Administered Zone, in northern Shan State. The nine suspects at the time arrested had Burmese citizenship.

In China, border police arrested a man named Mu Ronghong in Nanping, a town nine kilometers away from the Burmese border. The native of Yunnan, the Chinese region bordering Burma, was deemed as the ringleader of the smugglers. The statement did not elaborate on the 11th arrest.

Drug smuggling convictions of this magnitude will likely lead to death sentences in China. Article 347 of the Chinese Criminal Law allows for the death penalty for trafficking or selling more than 50 grams of narcotics.

The investigation preceding the raids in Nanping and Laukkai lasted for two months, according to the Wednesday statement. The haul is China’s largest drug bust since the July establishment of Joint Force 2012—a 24-country campaign against the cross-border drugs trade which included Burma and the United States.

Chinese authorities handled 1,399 drug-related crimes involving foreigners last year leading to the seizure of 3.9 metric tons of narcotics, according to the Chinese state Xinhua news agency. The Golden Triangle continues to play a central role in drug trafficking in the region despite increased efforts by neighboring governments and local potentates to scale down production and consumption.

Increased levels of activity are expected as preparations for this year’s opium poppy harvest begin in the border areas, the Shan Herald Agency for News reported on Wednesday.

Kokang, which is populated by a large Chinese majority and relies on China for everything from currency to cellphone coverage, has been a focal point of drug production and trade in the Golden Triangle for decades.

One local source told The Irrawaddy that since the fall of the then-ruling Peng clan in 2009, the drugs trade has been scaled down in the area. The Kokang government website carried the report by Xinhua on the drug bust in its own capital without providing further details.

The raid was preceded by a large anti-drug rally in Laukkai with 1,500 participants, according to Kokang government figures, on June 26—the international day against drug abuse and trafficking—with seemingly harmonious participation of Burmese military representatives.

Anonymous posts in local forums indicate persisting resentment against the Burmese military presence in the autonomous zone. The arrests followed a cryptic post on a popular Kokang Chinese-language blog condemning intrusion in local affairs by the Burmese military.

We “advise the Burmese army to quickly leave Kokang, restore Kokang’s real autonomy,” it read. “If not, the raging fire of the Chinese people will burn you to ashes!” The post originated on the Kokang-based online forum righteouskokang.com.

Road blocks are a daily sight across the border in China but traffickers know where they are and quickly leave their vehicles to sneak past unnoticed, one driver in nearby border-town Ruili told The Irrawaddy.

On July 18, a man and his mother were stopped by guards while crossing from Kachin State to Yunnan on a motorbike at an illegal border crossing. They had spent 30,000 yuan (US $4,700) to buy 11.9 kg of opium and expected windfall profits in China, the Chinese legal daily The Mirror reported.

Over the last 10 years, Yunnan border police and armed forces have dealt with 5,235 drug trafficking cases, confiscated 10 tons of heroin, 500 kg of methamphetamines and 530 tons of compounds required for the synthetic production of drugs, China National Radio reported in March. Last year, Yunnan authorities confiscated 13.5 tons of unspecified narcotics, according to figures released by the provincial government.