Commentary

Myanmar Govt, Military Use U.N. Opium Report to Slur Enemies, Shield Allies

By Lawi Weng 7 March 2019

It is clear to see that Myanmar authorities had a great deal of influence on the Myanmar Opium Survey the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) released in January.

Many of us know who really grows the opium, and their ties to the authorities. Instead, the UNODC has put most of the blame on the ethnic armed groups fighting the Myanmar military.

The report was a joint effort of the UNODC and Myanmar government. The UNODC and the government’s Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control would have each written a draft and then combined them.

The result reflects the way Myanmar authorities regularly accuse the ethnic armed groups they are fighting of growing opium and using the profits to buy weapons. The report reads less like a product of the UNODC than of the government.

Of course the UNODC could not have released the report without the government’s approval, so it must be biased.

The UNODC accused the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), a mostly ethnic Kachin armed group that engaged in heavy fighting with the military last year in northern Myanmar. Though the rivals have met several times in China for talks, sporadic fighting has continued.

Kachin State accounts for 15 percent of the opium produced in Myanmar. The rest comes from neighboring Shan State. We all know where the 15 percent in Kachin is grown.

According to the Transnational Institute, a research and advocacy group based in the Netherlands, most of the poppy cultivation in Kachin takes place it two locations: in Sadung Township bordering China and inside a tiger reserve in Tanai Township, which are effectively under military and government control.

Why did the UNODC fail to mention that a local border guard force under the military’s supervision is the one growing poppy in Sadung? The military clearly did not want fingers pointed at one of its allies.

The UNODC could cooperate with the KIA in many ways to combat opium production in Kachin State. But this report sullies the KIA’s reputation, so it may now be unwilling to cooperate. The KIA advocates against drugs and has even cracked down on production, but the UNODC failed to mention this. It also failed to mention the work of Pat Jasan, a vigilante group that detains drug users and destroys poppy crops.

In northern Shan State, meanwhile, the Pansay militia allows locals to grow poppy in area under its control and then takes a cut of their revenue, all while fighting with the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, another ethnic armed group in conflict with the military. Why did the UNODC not mention that?

Instead, the UNODC also accused the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army — yet another ethnic armed group fighting the military — which has a small area of control in Shan State’s Kokang region near the Chinese border.

But the government does not dare to blame the United Wa State Army (UWSA). The powerful ethnic armed group claims it has stopped growing poppy, but some still believe it continues to cultivate crops in a few remote areas in northern Shan. Again, the UNODC failed to accuse the UWSA.

The government and military have been blaming the country’s drug trade on their most hated enemies for a long time. The UNODC should get wise to the ruse. Otherwise, it will continue to be their tool.

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