Six more alleged members of an illegal drug trafficking group were killed by United Wa State Army (UWSA) forces on Wednesday as the ethnic armed group attempted to hunt down drug traffickers who escaped clashes on Tuesday near the Thai-Myanmar border in eastern Shan State.
“We killed six of them and detained one,” Nyi Rang, a spokesperson for the UWSA in Lashio, told The Irrawaddy on Friday.
The incident broke out at 5 p.m. as members of the UWSA encountered the alleged drug traffickers and told them to surrender. The traffickers refused and then reportedly attacked the UWSA forces. Nyi Rang said his troops seized around 3 million methamphetamine tablets during the incident.
Some of the drug traffickers escaped and the UWSA said it is continuing to search the nearby mountains and jungles.
The UWSA controls an area in eastern Shan State that shares a 400-kilometer border with Thailand, but Nyi Rang said his troops are unable to police illegal drug smuggling across such a large area.
“If these methamphetamines were smuggled across to Thailand, the Thai government would blame us yet again,” Nyi Rang said.
The Thai government has often blamed the UWSA for allowing illegal drugs to be smuggled into the country.
Much of the region’s illegal drug trade is produced in Shan State and smuggled into Thailand where traffickers can sell the drugs for a much higher price than in Myanmar. Thai authorities often seize illegal drugs in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and other areas in northern Thailand. Thai authorities have claimed that these illegal drugs are produced by the UWSA. The UWSA has denied all accusations from the Thai government.
The armed group also announced that it has eliminated illegal drugs in its area, no longer allowing local residents to produce heroin and punishing drug traffickers.
The UWSA received a tip last month that a group of illegal drug traffickers was using its territory to transport methamphetamine tablets into Thailand. The UWSA tightened security along the border with Thailand starting on Sept. 10.
The UWSA seized the traffickers’ guns following the clash. The traffickers were reportedly wearing military-style uniforms and boots, but not those of the Myanmar army.
Nyi Rang said the drug traffickers were from an ethnic group in Myanmar but refused to mention which group, saying it was not good to mention their ethnicity. They were reportedly members of a local people’s militia in Shan State.
The UWSA is the largest and best-armed ethnic armed group in Myanmar, based in northern and eastern Shan State.