Upper House lawmakers have blamed Burma’s endemic drug problem on a nexus of corrupt government officials and warlords commanding ethnic militias, and demanded that the government take a tough line against both.
In a session of the Upper House of Parliament on Tuesday, lawmakers said the connivance of such highly placed actors, in an environment of general impunity, made it particularly difficult to tackle the drug scourge, which was particularly harming Burma’s youth.
Khun Than Pe, representing Shan State Constituency-9, said that “drug lords” could begin to produce drugs on a grander commercial scale by posing as ethnic armed resistance leaders at a time when the military junta was forging a series of bilateral ceasefires in the 1990s.
“It was in the 1990s that [the drug problem] spread across both urban and rural areas. It is fair to say that [the problem] was born with ‘peace,’” said Khun Thein Pe.
He said that “uniformed people,” besides drug kingpins and militiamen, are selling drugs in the Pa-O Self Administered Zone of southern Shan State. He also said that, “In eastern Shan State, [drugs] as served like snacks in public gaming centers. You can see people openly abusing drugs in groups, as if they don’t care.”
Though the government has formed dedicated drug squads in the police force at the division and state level, they are too understaffed and under-equipped to arrest drug lords even if they want to, said Myo Win, a lawmaker from Mon State Constituency-8.
On the other hand, he said, the complicity of government authorities in the drug trade has frustrated efforts to arrest drug kingpins and major dealers because government officers leak information to them.
He cited a raid on July 15 on 13 known drug-dealing hotspots in the city of Mandalay involving 350 policemen, which resulted in the arrest of only drug users and small-time street dealers.
In the parliamentary session, military representative Lt-Col Tin Lin Oo countered that large-scale drug seizures were now frequent. However, he did not comment on the causes of the drug problem in Burma or on whether the Burma Army had a special plan to combat the activities of drug lords in cooperation with police drug squads.
Lawmakers suggested that higher-level government authorities should take the responsibility of taking on drug lords and rooting out government officials working in cahoots with them.
They also urged the government to conduct public awareness campaigns on a wide scale and provide poppy growers with alternative livelihoods.
Various lawmakers commented on increases in drug abuse within their constituencies, particularly among the young, many of whom become prone to committing crimes when short of money to buy drugs.
“Drugs are available even at betel nut shops in the streets in Arakan State, although poppy is not grown there,” said Myint Naing, a lawmaker representing Arakan State Constituency-5.
Poppy, the primary ingredient for opium and heroin, is grown in Shan, Kachin, Karenni and Chin states of Burma. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Burma is second largest producer of opium in the world, after Afghanistan. Large quantities of methamphetamine drugs are also produced and trafficked in Burma.