YANGON — A tribunal of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) sentenced a poppy grower to death and another to seven years in jail for fatally shooting a member of an ethnic Kachin movement against opium.
Lahtaw Tu Sai, 19, a member of Pat Jasan – an anti-narcotics coalition of church and community activists – was reportedly killed, as poppy growers Nsan Naw Mai and Diapha Gam shot at Pat Jasan members who tried to destroy poppy fields in Tanai Township, Kachin State, on Jan. 15, 2016.
The tribunal sentenced Nsan Naw Mai to death and Diapha Gam to seven years imprisonment. Both men are from Tayawn village in Tanai Township. It is unclear whether the two men were detained throughout the trial process and when that process began.
Netizens shared reports of the ruling along with photos of the trial on June 13.
KIO information officer Lt-Col Naw Bu confirmed the news, but said he had not received an official letter from the ethnic armed group’s leadership informing him of the verdict.
“As far as I can remember, the KIO tribunal hardly ever gives death sentences. But there were cases in which death sentences were commuted after an appeal,” said Lt-Col Naw Bu.
Lt-Col Naw Bu said the KIO has implemented an anti-narcotics policy since 1963. The KIO has assigned staff to combat opium and drug production as well as drug deals in the state, he said. The group also punishes citizens and KIO staff involved in drug cases, he added.
Naw Tawn, a Pat Jasan leader in Tanai Township, told The Irrawaddy that he heard the KIO investigated the two poppy growers after the incident, but he was not aware of the details of the case or the workings of KIO’s judicial system.
“I saw a post about the trial on Facebook, but we didn’t receive an official letter informing us about it. I don’t know exactly how the hearing took place,” he said.
Pat Jasan was formed in April 2014 in reaction to the state’s growing drug problem. Thousands of volunteers joined the movement, motivated by leaders of the Kachin Baptist Church (KBC).
The group runs awareness and education campaigns and rehabilitation centers. Its vigilante element arrests and prosecutes drug users and dealers, and destroys poppy fields.
Pat Jasan’s activities came under the spotlight after 30 people were injured in a clash between poppy growers, a militia and Pat Jasan in February 2016. Since then, the group’s vigilante activities have quieted.
Members of Pat Jasan asked the government to provide security in their plans to destroy poppy plantations in February this year, but the government did not respond, according to Naw Tawn, so it abandoned its plans. He said, however, it still runs education campaigns and rehabilitation centers for drug addicts.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.