According to researcher Khun Chankhe, PaO Youth Organization (PYO), the previous two 5 year phases of Naypyitaw’s 15 year master plan have failed to end poppy cultivation in the PaO Self-Administered Zone (SAZ) of Shan State.
The PaO SAZ is made up of 3 townships: Hopong, Hsihseng and Panglawng. Sizeable PaO populations are also found in other neighboring townships: Taunggyi, Pekon (Faikhun), Yawnghwe (Nyaungshwe) and Loilem.
“The first 5 year phase (1999-2004) was supposed to have terminated cultivation in Hsihseng and Pekon,” he told journalists from BBC, RFA, VOA, DVB, SHAN, and Thai PBS, among others, “The second 5 year phase (2004-2009) in Hopong and Pang Lawng. However, all 4 townships are still growing poppies after two 5 year phases.”
The third phase has targeted Yawnghwe. So far, he has received no reports from the township. (SHAN sources however confirm poppy fields were still observed during the last 2011-12 poppy season.)
“They used to grow poppies away from motor roads before 2010,” he added. “But now they are being grown quite openly close to the main road. The fields are also quite near to Hsihseng-based Light Infantry Battalions (LIB) 423 and 424 command posts.”
According to him, resistance movement-turned-ceasefire group-turned Burma Army run militia force led by Aung Kham Hti, has been campaigning for zero-cultivation in PaO SAZ. “But who is going to listen to them when the Burmese army is allowing farmers to grow by taxing them?” he asked rhetorically.
Following ban by the PaO National Organization (PNO) in 2005, the farmers had turned to other crops, such as onions and sugarcane. “Farmers told truck owners to sell them in Taunggyi for a share of 50:50 from the proceeds, but the truck owners said it would be just a waste of fuel and time,” he reported. “As for sugarcane, it’s the same. Nobody could find a market for it. Only one option thus remained: growing poppies.”
However, he later added another option: going to Thailand to find work and send money back to the family.
The PaOs are known for their cheroot-leaf plantations, just as the Palaungs in Shan State North for their tea plantations. Both crops that had sustained them for centuries are now facing sluggish markets. “One other problem is confiscation of lands by the military,” he explained. “Over 20,000 acres of farmland were confiscated in Hopong alone.”
Khun Changkhe was speaking at the press conference marking the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Trafficking. The other speaker, Khuensai Jaiyen, Editor of Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), told the audience 49 townships out of 55 in Shan State, where 39 of them had been targeted in 1999 for eradication, are still growing poppies. He urged a win-win solution: a political settlement between Naypyitaw and the non-Burma ethnic movements which will lead to the control over drug production and trade.
Hopong is only 12 miles southeast of the state capital Taunggyi and Hsihseng 45 miles further.