Police Accused in Vigilante Drug Bust in Northern Shan State

By Lawi Weng 26 January 2015

RANGOON — Two men have been detained in Namkham Township, northern Shan State, after a group of antinarcotics vigilantes say they apprehended the duo in possession of illicit drugs.

Kyaw Sein, a youth activist from Namkham who leads antinarcotics efforts in the region, told The Irrawaddy that the two men had driven a motorbike to Mang Kah village on Saturday morning and planned to sell drugs to local residents when they were confronted by antinarcotics activists.

“We got many tips that they were coming, but we did not know what type of drugs they would have with them. We waited to arrest them in the village. All the youths surrounded them, and they tried to ditch their drug stash, but they could not do it. So, we found them with drugs on them,” Kyaw Sein told The Irrawaddy.

The two men have been held at the Namkham police station since Saturday, when they were allegedly found with more than 90 amphetamine pills and a small amount of heroin.

Accounts differ on the identities of the pair, according to Kyaw Sein, who said police are claiming that only one of the men is a police officer, while locals maintain that the duo both hold badges.

A photo circulated via social media shows two men in stockades, with one man wearing a Myanmar Police Force uniform while the other is dressed in plainclothes.

An unnamed officer at the police station in Namkham told The Irrawaddy that he was not authorized to comment when asked about the identities of the two men.

Kyaw Sein claimed the two men did not provide their real names when asked.

“This is why we cannot stop illegal drug trafficking in Namkham—because police are involved in the drug trafficking. They extort taxes from drug dealers or seize the drugs and then sell them back to the dealers,” he said.

On Jan. 9, police seized more than 30 pounds of heroin in the town of Namkham, and detained a Chinese national who they found with the illegal substance in his car.

Namkham is known for its thriving trade in illicit drugs, according to antinarcotics activists, who say police often turn a blind eye or even participate in the sale and distribution of drugs.

Wider Namkham is a mountainous patchwork of poppy fields that is under the control of the local Pansay militia. Locals say Pansay charges a tax on the many farmers in the region who grow poppies, the precursor to heroin and methamphetamine.

Meanwhile, fighting in Namkham Township involving the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), pro-government Pansay soldiers and the Burma Army flared on Sunday and continued on Monday, according to TNLA communications officer Mai Aike Kyaw, who linked the renewed violence to drug eradication efforts of the TNLA.

The latest clashes occurred after TNLA soldiers entered an ethnic Lisu village and ordered local farmers to destroy their poppy crops, Mai Aike Kyaw said.

Troops from the TNLA ordered the crops’ destruction near in the Lisu village of Pan Mol, an area that is under the control of the Pansay militia, according to local sources. Fighting broke out after two poppy farms were destroyed on Sunday between the TNLA and Pansay soldiers, with the latter later reinforced by the Burma Army’s Light Infantry Battalion 77.

“More troops from the Burma Army arrived in the village, and fighting broke out again this morning,” said Kyaw Sein on Monday.