Sagaing Division Police Arrested on Drug Smuggling Allegations

By Zarni Mann 18 June 2013

RANGOON — Two high-ranking police officers from areas in Sagaing Division on Burma’s remote border with India were arrested this weekend on allegations of involvement in drug smuggling, national police sources said.

“The two officers, one from Tamu Township Police Office and another from Kalay District Police Office, were detained and are under investigation for their involvement in smuggling,” said an officer at the National Police Headquarters in Naypyidaw, referring to two areas of Sagaing Division.

Radio Free Asia reported on Monday that Tamu Township Police Chief Hla Win and Kalay District Deputy Police Chief Naing Zaw Htun had been put under arrest.

“We heard that other policemen from those offices were also under questioning, but we cannot give concrete information as this is a special mission by a team and we do not receive any details yet,” said the officer, who declined to be named as she was unauthorized to speak to the media.

She said the police team had seized more than 20 unlicensed vehicles that had been brought from India and also confiscated a load of Indian-produced medicine that had been smuggled into Burma.

Cheap, over-the-counter medicine from India is often used to extract pseudoephedrine, which can be used as a chemical precursor for the illicit manufacture of methamphetamine.

An officer from Kalay District Police Office confirmed that two senior officers had been arrested over the weekend, but he declined to provide further information on the case.

The arrests follow the police seizure last week of an illicit haul of medicine, precious hardwood and captured wildlife, including several pangolins, in Kalewa Township, according to a community leader from Kalay District capital Kalaymyo.

“It seems news reach Naypyidaw about the involvement of local police [in this case],” the man said, adding that a special police investigation team from the capital had been dispatched in response. “The team arrived here by airplane and no policemen from Kalay knew about this,” he said.

The Kalaymyo community leader said many corrupt police officers were deeply involved in cross-border smuggling in the region. “Actually, police have been involved in smuggling medicine, drugs, forestry products, and taking bribes from unlicensed vehicle-owners since long time ago. They even own those vehicles,” he said.

The Kalay-Tamu region in Sagaing Division straddles the remote border with India’s northeastern region and smuggling of drugs, medicine and illicit forestry products has thrived in the remote region for many years.

Government officials are believed to be involved in much of this trade, and have reportedly even sold arms to Indian insurgency groups based on the other side of the border.

Seizures of contraband and arrests are regularly reported in the region, which is becoming increasingly popular as a transit route among drug manufacturers, who use pseudoephedrine-based tablets to make methamphetamines headed for Thailand and China.

In February, state-owned newspaper The New Light of Myanmar reported that police in Tamu Township seized about 100 kilogram of pseudoephedrine-based cold and flu tablets and a large cache of weapons. The weapons included “96 assorted small arms, 60 assorted shells, 23 landmines, 7,907 assorted rounds of ammunition, 195 assorted magazines and 250 bullets and 4 coils of wires used for explosions.”

Nang Seng Nom contributed to this story