Rangoon Division Parliament Demands Crackdown on Drugs

By Moe Myint 14 June 2016

RANGOON — On Tuesday, more than a dozen National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmakers in the Rangoon Division parliament demanded that authorities crack down on big-time drug dealers and smugglers in the city, who keep evading arrest, citing the worsening effect of drugs on Rangoon’s youth.

The proposal was submitted the previous week by Wai Phyo Han, representing Insein Township (2), and was approved for debate by the parliamentary speaker.

Aye Aye Mar, representing Lanmadaw Township (2), presented her constituents’ complaints in the Tuesday parliamentary session. These centered on the targeting of university students and other young people by drug dealers.

“One of the student’s parents bared their souls to me,” Aye Aye Mar said. “They told me that first the students consume the drugs but later they became drug distributors.”

Thit Thit Myint, representing South Okkalapa Township (1), said she had heard of several massive drug seizures in Rangoon but the smugglers behind the shipments were never arrested. Drug distribution is increasing significantly day by day, she said, adding that they can even be bought at betel nut shops and small, unlicensed drinking outlets.

Another NLD lawmaker in the divisional legislature, Yan Shin of Mayangone Township (2), said that punishments for dug dealers should be similar to those in China and Indonesia, which include the death penalty. Burma stops short at lifetime imprisonment for the worst drug offenses.

Yan Shin thought that appropriately “heavy punishment” would effectively deter drug dealing. However, fellow NLD lawmaker Nay Phone Latt (Thingangyun, 1) said the government should be cautious in terms of whom and what it targets.

Yan Shin added that beauty salons, unlicensed massage parlors and karaoke clubs are linked to the narcotics trade. Such businesses are “protected” by low ranking police officers in return for bribes. This collusion makes it harder for counter-narcotics police to get at the big drug traders.

Lawmaker Than Naing Oo (Pabedan, 1) seconded these claims about massage parlors and police corruption, and suggested that the government should seek greater professionalization of the massage parlor industry, to bring it all above board.

Zin Min Htwe (Dagon, 2) spoke further of police complicity in the drug trade. Last month, the lawmaker said that a police officer had reportedly been arrested with “WY” methamphetamine pills in the Thaketa Township police station; he was allegedly selling them to detainees.

Zin Min Htwe added that many young addicts are currently admitted to Rangoon’s Mental Health Hospital for treatment. Its 1,200 beds have proved insufficient; three extra buildings, with 100 beds each, are now being used to accommodate the addicts.

Lawmaker Thaw Tar Aung (Sanchaung 2) said he had recently witnessed many youths injecting “no.4” heroin on apartment stairwells, and disposing of the hypodermic needles near buildings on Phyapon and Pathein roads.

Col Tin Aung Tun, Rangoon Division’s security and border affairs minister (a military appointment), told the divisional parliament that 18 large-scale drug traders are currently on the run. He said that counter narcotics police are working with Interpol to arrest them

The minister said the drug problem in Rangoon is linked to trade across the border from Bangladesh, Thailand and China. He also cited the involvement of non-state ethnic armed groups in Burma.

“It is very hard to solve the drugs problem while non-state armed groups continue to exist [in Burma],” he said.

The minister also told the divisional parliament that 717 people had been arrested with drugs within the last six months, a figure he coupled with the detention of 382 sex workers.

Lawmaker Thaw Tar Aung responded that “Young women [in massage parlors] are always arrested but the owner is never is.”