MANDALAY — As discussion continued in Parliament on Thursday over a Christian anti-poppy group’s drug eradication drive in Kachin State, several members of the vigilante group were reportedly injured in an attack by unknown assailants in Waingmaw Township.
According to the group known as Pat Jasan, its members were attacked by so-called “militants” on Thursday as they were heading to a poppy field located between Sadung and Kambaiti sub-townships in Waingmaw Township.
“They first tried to stop us as we were about to enter the poppy fields there. Later they beat us and threw stones at us. Then they burnt tents and took away our food,” said a campaigner, who wished to remain anonymous.
“Later they opened fire… and some soldiers and police, who were with us for security, also had to run away. The gunmen who attacked us are believed to be militants operating in the area.”
The anti-poppy activist said one man was beaten and injured badly.
“We still don’t know about the others. Now we are running for our lives,” he said, adding that the group was currently in Shan Kyaing in Waingmaw Township.
Pat Jasan, which was established by the Kachin Baptist Church, operates according to a no-tolerance approach to eradicating drugs and drug abuse. Its controversial tactics include the unilateral destruction of poppy and, according to local media reports, public beatings of drug users and other harsh measures.
The campaigners divided into six groups on Wednesday to begin destroying poppy plantations in Waingmaw Township. A week-long blockade of the activists at an army checkpoint in the township was lifted by authorities on Tuesday.
The group that was attacked on Thursday was reportedly comprised of around 300 members. The precise number of casualties is still unknown, as is the identity of the attackers.
Local authorities said they were planning to provide assistance to the group.
“We will help them to search for possible missing campaigners who have run for their lives and now plan to send more security persons to help them,” said an officer of the Myitkyina District police office.
In a Lower House session of Parliament on Thursday, lawmakers voted to approve a motion calling on the government to provide more support and protection for the anti-poppy activists. The decision followed an emergency discussion on the issue tabled on Wednesday.
Prior to Thursday’s Lower House session, Pat Jasan members had lobbied authorities to offer them more assistance.
“We feel that there’s no protection for us yet despite the Parliament in Naypyidaw discussing our anti-poppy campaigns. We urgently need full support and protection from the government,” said Kham Thu Dan Shaung, a central committee member of Pat Jasan.
“Our campaign is to help and support the government’s plan to eliminate drugs and poppy plantations. Since we were attacked like this, it is a sign that some people still want to profit out of drug production and that’s not good for our country’s future.”