RANGOON — Hundreds of anti-drug crusaders in Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township are awaiting permission from the state government before carrying out poppy eradication efforts in the surrounding area, with local authorities telling the campaigners their safety cannot yet be assured.
James Zung Ding, a leader of the group in Waingmaw, said his men first sought permission to travel to Kam Pai Ti sub-township on Tuesday.
“We even sent a letter again today,” he told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday. “They [the state government] told us today that those poppy farmers will attack us, and that it is not safe for us. This is why they did not let us go there.”
Armed with knives and machetes but no guns, members of the group have gathered in the town of Waingmaw and are prepared to set out when the government gives them the greenlight, Zung Ding said.
“We have 1,200 people who are our members, coming from different townships in Kachin, and we expect to get permission tomorrow.”
Poppy farmers in the area and local militias have threatened to retaliate against local activists if the latter attempt to destroy their poppy fields without offering a sustainable alternative livelihood.
“Some people phoned us and told us to provide a substitute crop. We are giving it consideration. However, our thinking is that we need to destroy those poppy farms first, then we will talk to them to ask what they need,” Zung Ding said.
Ethnic Chinese, Lisu and Kachin farmers are among those growing poppies, the precursor to opium, in the remote region bordering China.
Northwest of Waingmaw in Tanai Township, a teenage anti-narcotics activist was killed last week, shot dead by a man believed to be the owner of the opium crop that the victim and others were attempting to destroy.
The grassroots campaigns in Waingmaw and Tanai are motivated by participants’ shared belief in the negative impacts that drug addiction, narco-trafficking and attendant problems have had on communities in Kachin State in recent years.
Their eradication campaigns typically kick off in February, but poppy farmers planted their crops earlier this year, moving the harvesting season up on the calendar, according to the activists.