KIO Sets Steep Fines for Foreign Drug Convicts

By Patrick Boehler and Echo Hui 18 December 2012

The Kachin Independence Organization has set new drug regulations for foreigners, local sources say, allowing the organization to profit from fines imposed on users and smugglers arrested in Burma’s northernmost state.

“If family members ask for the repatriation of foreigners [caught with drugs], the foreigners can be released after being detained for 15 days and if fines are paid,” the new regulations state, according to a Chinese man living in Kachin State who has been consistently sympathetic to the KIO rebel movement.

After the detention period, the man said, families were required to pay 500,000 kyat (US $585), which included a $64 fee for food and housing.

The price of a release prior to 15 days’ detention was much steeper at $6,500, he said. That’s the equivalent of about six years of average income in rural areas of China’s Yunnan Province, near the Burmese border, according to China’s National Bureau of Statistics.

The Chinese man added that property, such as cars and cell phones, would be confiscated and passed on to the KIO’s central finance department.

Regulations have also changed for local drug users, the Chinese man said, again citing the regulation. Kachin drug convicts were previously held for 1-3 months in a one-storey clinic in the town of Laiza, near the KIO’s headquarters.

According to the new regulations, the man said, if Kachin residents were caught with drugs a second time, they could be detained for 15 days and then possibly forced to serve another 15 days of forced labor.

James Lum Dau, the KIO’s deputy chief of foreign affairs, confirmed the existence of new regulations on Tuesday, saying the rules would affect both local residents and foreigners caught with drugs in rebel-controlled territory.

He said the regulations had been in effect since October but did not elaborate on how long drug users would be detained or what fine they would have to pay.

He added that his organization had set rules against drug users in the past.

“Stricter rules alone can’t solve the problem,” he said.

Another two sources within the KIO administration did not confirm or deny the existence of new regulations when contacted last week, as they had been traveling outside Kachin State.

Still, one source said that “the KIO’s stand against illicit drugs has never been stronger and the action is more pragmatic than ever.”

The KIO is a political organization of ethnic Kachins advocating for their right to self-determination. As its armed group fights a war against the central government’s Burma Army, the KIO maintains an extralegal bureaucracy in Kachin State with control over pockets of territory along the Chinese border.

The group started clamping down on drug use in its territory in 2010, according to Gam Ba, assistant secretary of the KIO’s drug eradication committee. The committee is led by the chief of the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army.

Over the last couple years, the rebel movement has also detained Chinese gamblers who failed to pay gambling debts at casinos it operates in Laiza to generate vital revenue. These detentions have been a cause for friction between the KIO and Chinese authorities, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The Chinese embassy in Rangoon, Burma’s largest city, could not be reached for comment.

Another rebel group, the United Wa State Army in Burma’s eastern Shan State, extradited 50 Chinese drug addicts to China in the year preceding June, the Wa Supreme Court chief said in June.