Naypyitaw — The United Wa State Army (UWSA) on Wednesday handed over a drug trafficker it arrested along with 3.5 million methamphetamine pills in the south of the Wa self-administered zone.
“The handover took place in Hui-au, in our controlled area of southern Wa State. We have also handed over other detainees to the government after previous arrests,” UWSA external relations officer Nyi Rang told The Irrawaddy.
In response to a drug trafficking tipoff, a USWA battalion searched the Lwel Htwe mountain range about 5 km from the Thai border, he said.
The UWSA said it found around 40 suspected drug smugglers, who opened fire on the troops. After exchanging fire, one suspect was killed and another was detained alive, according to the UWSA.
The armed group said it seized around 3,510,000 meth pills.
“We carried out an interrogation. The others fled and the case is not over so it is inappropriate to reveal the details but most of the suspects were from Myanmar’s territory,” said Nyi Rang.
Myanmar’s military and police took part in the handover, said military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun.
“As it is an area held by an EAO [ethnic armed organization], we assisted the police. The police will open a case,” he said.
In previous drug seizures on the Thai side of the border, the Thai authorities usually accuse the UWSA of producing narcotics and supplying dealers in Thailand, said ethnic affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe.
To counter the accusation, he said, the UWSA has carried out anti-drug campaigns and handed alleged traffickers to Myanmar’s government.
In June 2017, as the UWSA incinerated seized drugs to mark the UN’s International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the armed group claimed opium poppy fields had been eradicated from the southern area of Wa State bordering Thailand.
The southern part of Wa self-administered zone, often referred to as military region 171, houses five 2,000-strong brigades.
Narcotics analysts say the EAOs in Myanmar are involved in the drug trade.
On April 21, Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Monitor reported that Myanmar’s military intelligence identified the ethnic Kachin Kaungkha militia as the Arakan Army (AA)’s main strategic partner in the lucrative production and trafficking of meth “yaba” tablets and crystal meth or “ice.”
The report said the Myanmar military or Tatmadaw has “identified the narcotics trade centered on northeastern Shan State as the key generator of the tens of millions of dollars required to recruit, train and equip an insurgent army”.
The report also said the military’s Northeastern Command had probably been aware of the militia’s involvement in the drug trade for years and “almost certainly” profited from the trade.
The AA denied the allegations in the report, saying it “has no ties to any People’s Militia Force set up and controlled by the Myanmar army” and is “not in any way connected to this militia group”.
“Most [drug producers] have ties to many of the EAOs in eastern Shan State. Drugs can be produced only under their protection,” Brig-Gen Zaw Min Tun told The Irrawaddy.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said Myanmar’s anti-drug authorities made an unprecedented drug bust after a two-month operation near Loikan village in Shan State.
More than 3,700 liters of methylfentanyl, 17.5 tonnes of meth tablets and drug-making equipment were seized near Loikan in a joint police and military operation.
Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko