WAINGMAW, Kachin State — Over twenty Kachin anti-opium campaigners, members of the vigilante group Pat Jasan, were injured after being attacked en route to destroy poppy fields in Kachin State’s Waingmaw Township on February 25; they are currently recovering in a Myitkyina hospital.
After guns, small hand grenades and stones were used in the assault on two of their convoys, Pat Jasan reported that they were able to detain 19 of the attackers. A truck being used by the group was set on fire by owners of the poppy fields and members of a local militia. Property, including walkie-talkies and clothes, was also destroyed.
After the attacks, The Irrawaddy’s Nang Lwin Hnin Pwint spoke with Tuu Naw, one of the victims of the attack and also the head of the Pat Jasan’s Group No. 2.
Could you tell us what happened in the attack?
Last [Wednesday] night, we went together with the police and met with the Tatmadaw troops from [Battalion] No. 37. They told us to rest on a bit higher ground. There were police [nearby] and it was a good place to rest, so we slept there. The next morning, we talked with our elders and leaders and started the destruction of the poppy fields. When we were about to leave, they [the attackers] arrived and shot us from every side. They had many different guns. They shot us with hand grenades too.
Since we did not have weapons like guns, we could not resist. The attackers shot at us, but we could not shoot back as we only had knives. So we retreated, but they followed us and kept shooting. We dispersed and around 10 people disappeared. Four people were wounded by shrapnel from bombs. The number of injured people has reached more than 20 now.
What were the police, who travel with you for security, doing at that time?
They were near us, but they were also afraid. All [the attackers] surrounded us and shot at us. But the police could not shoot back. I do not want to comment on them, because we don’t know what kinds of orders they were given.
How many poppy plantations are there in the area?
They are all over the area, as everyone traveling in the region can see. They are west of the border guard force and also near the troops. A lot of poppy fields are located next to the government school. The fields are everywhere, on every mountain—there are more than ten thousand acres. They could also be growing it in areas that we cannot see from afar.
How did you feel while you were attacked on the way to destroy the poppy fields?
We felt safe as we were traveling with a police security detail, and also there was a discussion [about poppy plantations] in the Parliament. We had also informed the Kachin State parliament as well as the President’s Office. It had gone smoothly. So we went to focus on the destruction of the poppies, which are not only an enemy of the Kachin people, but also of the world. Our groups slept well without even having a [security] patrol.
After what happened, it shows that there is no stability in the region. We cannot think of what more the poppy growers could do to us. Our group feels sad. Since the other side is using weapons to attack us, I don’t think we can continue the destruction of poppies unless we have weapons, too.
Are you saying that you would bring weapons when you return to your work of destroying poppy fields?
We will have to discuss with our elders and the respective government officials. The attackers include the poppy growers, as well as the militia members, who are given guns by the government. A bit farther away, shooters in military uniform were shooting up into the sky. We only have knives, which are used for poppy destruction. Therefore, I think that when we come back, we must come with weapons and security forces.