Vigilante drug eradication programs in northern Kachin State have been able to sustain momentum, despite threats to several volunteers’ lives last month.
For two years, local civil society organizations (CSOs) have been leading anti-drug campaigns to destroy poppy fields. In January, activities took a violent turn when a volunteer was shot dead and three others were injured by poppy growers in Tanai and Waingmaw townships.
Still, Tang Gun, secretary of a drug eradication group in Myitkyina, the Kachin State capital, said the programs will continue as poppies begin to blossom. Between 600 and 1,400 members of local CSOs have traveled to larger plantations in five townships—Sumprabum, Putao, Chipwi, Waingmaw and Tanai—across Kachin State to destroy the illicit crop.
Tang Gun told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that teams have destroyed more than 1,500 acres of poppy fields in Tanai and 2,000 in southern Waingmaw, the townships with the most fields.
He added that three people were injured on Jan. 31 during such an exercise: two in a mine blast near the Sha Ngaw stream in Waingmaw, and another by a shotgun. One volunteer died that same month from injuries sustained from gunshot wounds to the chest and head.
“The teams aim to prevent the production of heroin in the region,” Tang Gun said. “Locals suffer a lot from drug-related problems. Many young people already face addition to the drug. We don’t want to see more of that.”
Drug eradication activities were far-reaching in Kachin State during the 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the government. But when this tenuous peace broke down in 2011, locals said that it also revitalized poppy growing in the region.
The apparent uptick gave local CSOs and community members, led by the Myitkyina-based Kachin Baptist Convention, a new cause to join hands in the eradication of poppy fields in Kachin State. Today, teams conduct surveys in their respective regions on field locations, raise awareness and attempt to persuade locals to join them in anti-poppy campaigns.
Tang Gun said that the results have been promising, with the number of poppy plantations diminishing as a result of combined efforts from teams in Kachin and northern Shan states. He also urged poppy growers to look to seasonal poppy substitutes.
“We have a lot of good soil in Kachin State. We can grow crops other than poppy.”