CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Authorities in Shan State’s Kyaukme Township discovered a batch of abandoned precursor drugs outside a monastery earlier this week, in one of the largest such hauls ever in the eastern state known as a narcotics hub.
Police said the materials were likely discarded by members of a non-state armed group while transporting them to nearby Hsipaw, though an investigation is still ongoing.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy on condition of anonymity, a Kyaukme police officer said locals tipped off authorities after sighting more than a dozen mysterious sacks near the Chaung Kyauk monastery.
Police arrived at the scene on Monday accompanied by Burma Army soldiers, finding a total of 682.5 kilograms of pseudoephedrine in both tablet and powder form. Pseudoephedrine is an amphetamine commonly used in nasal decongestants, and a preferred chemical precursor for the production of methamphetamines.
A military-owned newspaper, Myawaddy, reported that the load of pills and powder carried an estimated value of US$2.4 million dollars, though this could not be independently verified.
The anonymous police officer told The Irrawaddy that an eyewitness account pointed to involvement of armed soldiers, though the army to which they belonged was indiscernible. The witness said he saw two uniformed men throw the sacks out of a car, the officer said.
“[The witness] said they were in military uniforms. We are still investigating to find out which [armed] group they belonged to. As far as we know, [the drugs] were being carried to Hsipaw Township. It is possible that they threw them near the monastery as they found it uneasy to carry,” the officer said.
The production and use of methamphetamines has risen sharply in eastern Burma over recent years as anti-narcotics efforts targeting the region’s expansive opiate trade have taken hold.
According to a May 2015 report on synthetic drugs in Southeast Asia by the UNODC, Burma “is perceived to be the main country of origin for methamphetamine tablets seized throughout the Mekong sub-region and to some other parts of East and South-East Asia.”
A Lower House lawmaker from Hsipaw, Ye Htun told The Irrawaddy that seizures of trafficked narcotics and other materials are frequent in the area, and that the local government is making efforts to combat the problem. He said the ethnic armed groups active in the region—which include the Shan State Army-North, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army and a number of militias—often have people on both sides of the drug war.
“In those regions, there are two groups: the ones that produce the drugs and the ones that crack down on them. Generally speaking, armed groups are also divided into those two categories—those that supply and those that eliminate,” Ye Htun said.
Locals claim, however, that government officials are also involved in the illicit production and trade of narcotics in both Hsipaw and Kyaukme townships.