Burma

Myanmar Army Seizes Shan State Militia Chiefs Over Drugs Bust

By Lawi Weng 26 March 2020

Myanmar’s army seized more than 1,000 weapons and detained leaders from the military-backed Kaungkha militia in Kutkai Township, northern Shan State, according to a militia source.

At least eight leaders from the group were detained by the northeastern military command in Lashio, an anonymous militia leader told The Irrawaddy today.

“They called our leaders to a meeting on March 24 but they did not come back,” said a Kaungkha group officer. He said some leaders were involved in drug trafficking but those detained in Lashio were not.

He said troops seized over 1,000 weapons at the militia’s headquarters in Lwekham village on the same day their leaders were detained in Lashio.

Myanmar’s military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy: “Large amounts of illegal drugs were found in Lwekham and the armed group might be involved in the case. Only an armed group could do this. Therefore, those who were detained might be related to the drugs case. But I did not know the details.

“Those who were involved in drugs case may face prosecution. If they did not violate the law, they will be fine. They failed to inform us so we took action against them,” he said.

Myanmar’s army found a large amount of illegal drugs, other materials and equipment valued at 267 billion kyats (US$194 million) over 11 days until March 9 in Lwekham and Kaungkha villages, which were under the control of the Kaungkha militia.

The militia, also known as the Kachin Defense Army (KDA), is a splinter group of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), based in northern Shan State.

The KDA transformed into a border guard force in 2010 and has 10 groups based in five townships in northern Shan State. Their headquarters in Lwekham village is registered as having members 850 with Myanmar’s government and has transformed into a militia. But it has more than 2,000 members who have not registered with the government, according to the source.

On orders from their leaders, they gave their weapons to Myanmar’s army, according to the militia source.

The Tatmadaw (military) called for a meeting but many of the militia members reportedly refused.

“We could not do anything until our leaders are released. Therefore, we had to give them all our guns,” said the source.

The Kaungkha militia had no plans to join the KIA, according to the source, who added that the Tatmadaw should consider the future of its members who were not involved with the drugs trade.

“[Myanmar’s army] took a political opportunity by moving against the whole organization, instead of targeting the leaders responsible,” he said.

“No one will leave unless we get orders from our leaders,” he said.

Myanmar’s military currently controls the militia’s territory and deployed approximately 5,000 troops, according to the source. Entry to the area was heavily restricted and villagers had fled after house-to-house searches.

With Lwekham and Kaungkha under Tatmadaw control, drugs production has ceased. The source wondered why the military had only taken action this month despite years of drug production in the area.

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