Kachin Armed Group Asks UN to Correct Opium Claims

By Lawi Weng 27 February 2019

Mon State — The Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) has asked the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to correct a recent report that claims areas under the armed group’s control have some of the highest concentrations of opium cultivation in the country.

“When we looked at the UNODC survey, we found that they did not go to the area to do the survey for their report. They relied on information from a person or organization. If they had done the survey on the ground themselves, their survey report would not be wrong like this,” KIO spokesman Col. Naw Bu told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday.

“They should confess their mistake and they should tell the people they made a mistake.”

The KIO says 6,000 acres are under poppy cultivation in Kachin State’s Special Region 1, under the control of the Kachin Border Guard Force, a former militia now under the authority of the Myanmar military. It says another 1,000 acres or more are also under poppy cultivation in the state’s Tanai Township in areas under the control of the Myanmar military itself.

The KIO sent the UNODC office in Bangkok a letter of Feb. 15 pointing out the report’s alleged mistakes and asking for a correction.

The areas under the densest cultivation, the letter says, “are actually located close to the Myanmar military and government militia camps in and around the town of Tanai.”

“By failing to mark the Myanmar military presence in the ‘armed groups’ map…a distorted picture of the link between conflict and opium is being conveyed,” it adds.

Contacted by phone for comment, the UNODC asked The Irrawaddy to email its questions. Emails sent to its Bangkok and Yangon offices have gone unanswered.

According to the report, the highest concentrations of opium cultivation are in areas under the control of the KIO in Kachin State and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army in Shan State. It says cultivation remains most prevalent in areas with the most fighting and has dropped most dramatically in parts of Kachin and Shan with less fighting, drawing a clear relationship between conflict and opium production.

According to the survey, the total area under poppy cultivation in Myanmar dropped 12 percent to 36,100 hectares between 2017 and 2018. Despite the overall drop in cultivation, the report says Myanmar remains the major supplier of opium and heroin in East and Southeast Asia and Australia.

The survey, the UNODC’s 16th in Myanmar, was carried out in cooperation with the Home Affairs Ministry’s Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control, combining satellite imagery and a yield survey to evaluate the extent of opium poppy cultivation and production.