RANGOON — The Kachin State government has promised to provide security for a group of anti-drug campaigners in Waingmaw Township after a teenage member was shot dead last week while clearing poppy fields in the state.
Zonne Deink, a priest and leader of the Pat Ja San organization, told The Irrawaddy that authorities gave the group approval to carry out its poppy eradication campaign on Thursday, after members earlier in the week requested protection.
“We have drawn up plans [to destroy poppy plantations] with more than 1,000 members,” he said, adding that the group planned to begin carrying out its mission on Saturday.
Zonne Deink said he had first asked for the state government’s assistance after the group was confronted by members of a local Border Guard Force (BGF), militia and poppy growers, who prevented them from destroying poppy fields in the township on Tuesday.
A member of Pat Ja San, who asked not to be named, told The Irrawaddy: “About 500 people carrying sticks, swords and guns were blocking our way, so we could not proceed. We have had to ask the Waingmaw police station and township administrator to provide security for us.”
Though the group has been destroying the small-scale plantations of local poppy growers in Kachin State, it does not provide the farmers with substitute crops nor monetary compensation, a source of friction that proved deadly on Jan. 15, when a farmer fatally shot a teenage who was clearing poppies in Tanai Township, northwest of Waingmaw.
Despite the fact that Burma Army units are based in Injangyang, Chipwi, Tsawlaw, and Waingmaw, the four townships are largely under the administration of the New Democratic Army–Kachin (NDAK), a group led by Zakhung Ting Ying that officially transformed into a BGF in 2009.
Zakhung Ting Ying won a seat in the Upper House constituency covering Chipwi, Tsawlaw and Ingyanyan townships in the 2015 election.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the total area under opium poppy cultivation in Burma in 2015 was estimated at 55,500 hectares, including 4,200 hectares in Kachin State.
While the figure represented a 4 percent decrease from 2014, Burma remains the second-largest opium producer in the world, after only Afghanistan.