RCSS Says Lack of Govt Cooperation Stymying Anti-Drug Efforts

By Nyein Nyein 16 December 2015

The Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) says its ambitious drug eradication plans have gone nowhere due to a lack of cooperation from the regional military command in Shan State, the epicenter of Burma’s opium problem.

Lt-Gen Yawd Serk, chairman of the RCSS, told The Irrawaddy in early 2013 that the ethnic armed group’s plan to eradicate narcotics production in territory it controls, over a period from 2012-17, would succeed if the government cooperated.

Halfway through this six-year plan, however, the RCSS leader said there was no collaboration or follow-through from the Burma Army’s Eastern Central Command, based in Kho Lam.

The RCSS, the government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reached an agreement to jointly combat the drug trade in late 2012, when talks aimed at securing a nationwide ceasefire agreement between Naypyidaw and Burma’s ethnic armed groups were in their initial stages. The plan included surveying of some townships, introduction of a pilot crop substitution program and a campaign to educate locals about the adverse impacts of the illicit narcotics trade.

“When we discussed with the government, it was a smooth talk. But the actual implementation has been delayed due to a lack of collaboration with the regional military command,” explained Yawd Serk, who signed the nationwide ceasefire pact in Naypyidaw in mid-October, representing the RCSS and its militant wing, the Shan State Army-South (SSA-S).

Burma remains the region’s top opium producer and is second only to Afghanistan globally, according to a report from the UNODC released Tuesday.

In its 2015 South East Asia Opium Survey, the UNODC said Shan State—where conflict is ongoing between some ethnic armed groups and the government—was still “the center of Myanmar’s opium and heroin trade, accounting for 91 percent of opium poppy cultivation in the Golden Triangle.”

In 2015, 55,000 hectares were under opium poppy cultivation nationwide, yielding 647 tons of opium, according to the UNODC report. That marked just a slight decrease from the 57,600 hectares under cultivation in 2014.

Yawd Serk said that when planning eradication efforts, security was an issue in Shan State, where a patchwork of ethnic rebel groups, government-aligned militias and the Burma Army all operate.

“The Tatmadaw [Burma Army] can retain their weapons during the drug eradication process in these areas, while we cannot keep ours,” he told The Irrawaddy this week.

After inking a bilateral ceasefire with the government, the RCSS was able to open liaison offices in Shan State intended to foster better communication between the government and the rebel group, but the latter is restricted from traveling with weapons under the terms of the peace accord.

Elsewhere in Shan State, an opium eradication campaign undertaken by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) has been blamed for hostilities between that ethnic Palaung armed group and the government, which have flared periodically since mid-2012.