The United Wa State Army (UWSA), considered the strongest armed group in Burma, and dubbed a terrorist organization with connections to drug trafficking by the United States, says it is a difficult task for a small group as itself to totally defeat the drug problem alone, the group therefore hopes the world may understand it, according to Xiao Minliang, Vice Chairman of the group.
“We will do what we can to win the struggle against the scourge of drugs,” Xiao was quoted as saying at the group’s 6th drug bonfire held yesterday, 26 June, the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. “But, since we are a small country, we hope the world will have understanding for us if we can’t do everything.”
Yesterday, the UWSA burnt an estimated 5 tons of different kinds of drugs including pseudoephedrine, yaba or methamphetamine tablets, opium, heroin, opium oil and other equipments which were seized during 2010. The value of the burned drugs has been predicted to be around Yuan 30 million (US$ 4.7 million), according to the UWSA.
“These drugs did not belong to us and also do not come out from our territory. They come from outside of the Wa region and from neighboring areas. Our territory is completely clean of drugs,” said one of the Wa officials.
The drug bonfire ceremony was held at Yawng Ting, 18 km north of its capital Panghsang from 8:00 to 12:00 (Burma Standard Time). It was presided over by Xiao Minliang, Vice Chairman of the Wa Central Authority together with other top leaders from its allies, the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) better known as Mongla group and Shan State Progress Party/Shan State Army (SSPP/SSA) up to around 2,000 participants, according to one of the participants.
The ceremony was held in order to reaffirm its pledge to the world given in 2005, according to UWSA. The group has been holding drug bonfire ceremony every year since it declared its territory as drug free (in 2005).
“Since then we have tried our best to block the drug-flow to neighboring countries especially to China. Now the number of drug users and drug traffickers are decreasing every year. That is what we have achieved,” the Wa officer said.
Meanwhile, junta authorities have also reported holding a similar ceremony in Naypyitaw; Myitkyina, capital of Kachin State; Taunggyi, capital of the Shan State; Kengtung, capital of Shan State East; and Lashio, capital of Shan State North. The value of drugs burnt in those towns is worth approximately K 40,622 million (US$ 51,096,855), according to the New Light of Myanmar report on 26 June.
Chairman of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control and Union Minister for Home Affairs Lt- Gen Ko Ko said this was the second phase of a fifteen year project to eliminate drugs in Myanmar, which started in 1999 and will end in 2014 as ASEAN has strived to become “Drug Free ASEAN” in 2015.
But the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2011 World Drug Report say that poppy cultivation in Burma increased by 20 percent in 2010.
Likewise, the Shan Drug Watch draft report says the number of poppy fields has increased compared to previous years. They are mostly found in areas under the control of the Burma Army rather than those under control by the ceasefire armies.
“In addition, one of the townships that has long disappeared from the “Not free” list, Kunggyan, one of the two townships in the now Kokang Self Administered Zone, has returned to the list,” said the report.
In 1999, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) embarked on a 15-year plan to eradicate the cultivation and production of all drugs in Burma by 2014. The total townships targeted were 51: 43 in Shan State, 4 in Kachin, 2 in Kayah or Karenni and 2 in Chin.
Only 32 out of 51 targeted townships were “poppy free” in the first two phases of its drug elimination plan, between 1999 and 2009, the previous Shan Drug Watch 2009-2010 report said.
During the 2009-2010 poppy season, there were 46 out of 55 townships in Shan State growing opium.