YANGON—The United Wa State Army (UWSA) had detained 53 armed men, including 14 Thais, who were attempting to smuggle over 7 million methamphetamine tablets into Thailand in a forest in eastern Shan State, according to Nyi Rang, a Lashio-based spokesperson for the ethnic armed group.
The UWSA troops fired on the smugglers near the Thai border on Aug. 26 as they were attempting to transport drugs into Mae Ai District in Thailand’s Chiang Mai Province through a forest route in Lwel Lian, eastern Shan.
The smugglers returned fire as they fled, but the UWSA managed to arrest most of them, Nyi Rang said.
“We received information that the smugglers have been using forest routes. So, we waited for them and arrested them,” said U Nyi Rang, adding that some members of the smuggling group managed to flee into Thailand.
Fourteen of those detained are Thai nationals and 39 are Myanmar citizens, said U Nyi Rang.
According to Thaivisa News Agency, the UWSA informed Thai authorities that it arrested Thai nationals with arms and drugs. The Thai authorities checked with the UWSA and found that nine of the suspects are wanted under arrest warrants issued by a Thai court over the murder of an anti-drug activist in August, the agency said.
The UWSA also seized mobile phones, pistols, one M79 grenade launcher, one M16A1 assault rifle, two MA rifles and two AK-47 assault rifles from the suspects, according to the report.
“We have not yet determined whether to hand over the Thai suspects to [Thai officials], and whether to hand over the Myanmar suspects to the Myanmar Police Force. In previous cases, we have handed over suspects,” Nyi Rang said.
The UWSA has made a number of drug seizures from smugglers since January, said Nyi Rang, adding that he did not have details regarding the amounts seized.
Earlier this month, Thai police arrested three Myanmar women who were attempting to smuggle opium disguised as food products from the border town of Tachilek into Thailand’s Mae Sai.
Thai news agencies also reported that there was an exchange of fire between Thai police and drug smugglers in Thailand near the border on Aug. 26. One smuggler was killed, and another was arrested with over 10 million methamphetamine pills, according to the reports.
The UWSA is regarded as the most powerful ethnic armed group in Myanmar. It is the military wing of the United Wa State Party, the de facto ruling party of Wa State—officially known as the Wa Self-Administered Division—within Shan State.
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