Nationwide Drug-Control Requires Peace, Say Police

By Htet Naing Zaw 28 June 2016

NAYPYIDAW — The production and trafficking of narcotic drugs can be controlled nationwide only after peace, stability and the rule of law have been restored in Burma’s ethnic minority borderlands, said Police Col Zaw Lin Tun, head of planning at the Burma Police’s anti-drug squad.

He was quoted at the press briefing after a ceremony marking the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking held at the Myanmar International Convention Center-2 in the capital Naypyidaw on Sunday.

“The 21st Century Panglong Conference could contribute a lot to drug control. If peace were restored, we would be able to investigate drug trafficking more deeply. Drug control and peace are interrelated,” the police colonel said.

The “Panglong” peace conference has been planned for July, with the aim of securing peace between the government and Burma’s various ethnic armed groups, who have controlled large swathes of the borderlands for decades.

According to statements made at the Naypyidaw press briefing, the police have been applying two primary methods in drug control—searching vehicles that ply known trafficking routes, and employing informers to expose trafficking rings.

Those arrested for drug-related offenses are mostly drug abusers or retail traffickers. Police claim they are unable to get at wholesale traffickers and ringleaders because they reside in “ethnic areas” which are not yet at peace.

Zaw Lin Tun said, “Most drug-related cases have been uncovered along trafficking routes. We get the drivers and, after investigating, the distributors who act as middlemen. Taking further steps is very difficult because the main culprits reside in border areas beyond the reach of the rule of law. So, we have had to give up our attempts.”

Burma’s police claim that the cultivation of opium and drug trafficking are common in the borderlands and that ethnic armed groups, even if not directly involved in drug production or trafficking, allow traffickers to set up factories in areas of their control, extracting money from them in exchange for protection.

The police failed to arrest the ringleaders, or those higher up the criminal chain, in the five largest drug hauls over the last year, including 2.1 million amphetamine tablets seized in Muse, on the Chinese border in northern Shan State, and 26.7 million stimulant tablets confiscated in Mingaladon Township in Rangoon in July 2015.

Although special anti-drug operations have been carried out in Rangoon and Mandalay—alongside efforts in other divisions and states, under a “100-day plan”—difficulties persist.

Vice President Myint Swe, an old regime hardliner who was elected to his post by the military, told the attendees at the Naypyidaw ceremony that the government was “cooperating” with the eight ethnic armed groups that singed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) last year to eradicate poppy cultivation and drug trafficking in their respective areas.

“It is necessary to make continued efforts to dramatically reduce the drug problem in the country through the peace process,” Myint Swe said.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.