Wa Declare Poppy-Free Zone

By The Irrawaddy 27 June 2017

The United Wa State Army (UWSA) claimed opium poppy fields have now been completely eradicated from the southern area of the Wa Self-Administered Division bordering Thailand, as it incinerated seized drugs to mark the UN’s international day against drug abuse on Monday.

“I invite government officials, lawmakers, foreigners, and other people to observe our southern Wa State—I guarantee there is no poppy plant in the southern part [of UWSA territories] controlled by military region 171,” said UWSA commander Yang Guozhong at a village in Pone Pa Kyin Township, home to the ethnic armed group’s southern headquarters.

According to the commander, a total of 2.7 million methamphetamine tablets, four kilograms of heroin, and 14 kilograms of raw opium were seized by the UWSA anti-narcotics squad between January 2014 and June 2017. Thirty drug dealers and 60 drug users were arrested over the same time period by the narcotics squad.

The Wa anti-narcotics squad, headed by Yang Guozhong, was formed on June 26, 2011.

Yang Guozhong said UWSA Chairman Bao Youxiang had sworn to the international community he would eradicate drug production, dealing and abuse in Wa-controlled areas.

UWSA began controlling opium poppy growing in 1996 and adopted policies to combat the production of drugs in 2005.

In 2000, UWSA relocated residents living in the southern part of Wa Self-Administered Division to the northern part, and also relocated those from northern part to southern part to grow substitute crops, said the commander.

Areas around Pone Pa Kyin village were being used to grow rubber, maize, oranges, and rice, when The Irrawaddy visited.

From 2011 to 2017, the UWSA drug squad made four door-to-door inspections in military region 171. Drug users, if arrested for the first time, were brought to undergo military training while repeat offenders were handed prison sentences.

U Hsan Win Aung, a lawmaker of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the Shan State parliament, said that besides the government, ethnic armed groups were also responsible for drug eradication.

UWSA previously incinerated drugs behind closed doors in the southern Wa Self-Administered Division in 2004 and 2015, amid allegations that the drugs were fake.

On Monday, journalists were invited to inspect the seized drugs.

Myanmar is the second biggest poppy grower, and over 80 percent of poppy is grown in Shan State, according to the UN.

Authorities from Thailand, which shares a border with the southern Wa Self-Administered Division, have accused UWSA of supplying drugs to dealers in Thailand.

Ta Ma Ha, the vice-chairman of another Wa ethinic armed group the Wa National Organization, the political wing of the Wa National Army, was arrested in Chiang Mai, Thailand with 10 kilograms of pure methamphetamine, 7.5 kilograms of raw opium and 26,400 methamphetamine pills in June last year.

WNO denied its involvement in the drug trade.

The southern part of Wa Self-Administered Division, often referred to as military region 171, houses five brigades of more than 2,000 troops each: 772, 775, 778, 518 and 248.

The incineration ceremony was attended by the Mongton Township Lower House lawmaker, NLD party members and officials from the Forest Department.

UWSA signed a ceasefire with the military regime in 1989, but opted out of signing the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) with the former U Thein Sein government in 2015. In April, together with other northeastern ethnic armed groups, it denounced the NCA and proposed an alternative path to peace.

Under the 2008 Constitution, the UWSA-controlled area also known as Shan State (North) Special Region 2, consists of six townships— ​Hopang, Metman, Mongma, Narphan, Panghsang, and Panwai—which are divided into two districts.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.