MANDALAY — A week-long blockade preventing anti-poppy campaigners in Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township from carrying out their activities was lifted late on Tuesday, according to local authorities.
Since Feb. 16, the anti-drug vigilantes had been encamped at an army checkpoint at the junction of Sadaung and Chipwi roads, prevented from reaching poppy fields further on—a measure authorities claimed was for their own safety.
Although the group was briefly blocked at another military base, on Boun Taung hill on Tuesday, campaigners were reportedly assured they would receive protection from the army in the area.
“The army base [at Boun Taung Hill] and the military personnel stationed in the Kambaiti area assured us that they would continue on with us in order to help ensure our safety until our mission is done,” said Yin Kyang, a Christian pastor involved in the group which claims to have destroyed thousands of acres of poppy fields in recent months.
The group of vigilantes are known as Pat Jasan, established by the Kachin Baptist Church, which operates according to a no-tolerance approach to eradicating drugs in their communities.
While the group has been destroying poppy plantations in Kachin State, it does not provide the farmers with substitute crops or monetary compensation, a source of friction that proved deadly on Jan. 15, when a farmer fatally shot a teenager who was clearing poppies in Tanai Township, northwest of Waingmaw.
According to campaigners, authorities had initially allowed only 60 people to reach the fields before all members were ultimately allowed to continue.
“Some of us who were on the front lines will camp tonight in La Jaung village and start trekking to the poppy fields from there. Some will camp at Boun Taung,” Yin Kyang said.