Myanmar activists say destruction of opium fields blocked

AP News
Posted: Feb 19, 2016 8:29 AM
Myanmar activists say destruction of opium fields blocked

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Anti-drug activists said Friday the military and local police are preventing them from destroying fields of opium poppies in northern Myanmar, a major cultivation area for the drug that can be made into heroin.

The Pat Jasan group has more than 1,000 members engaged in the current eradication campaign and is affiliated with Christian churches of the Kachin ethnic minority. The effort it started in late January is opposed by farmers and militias that profit from drug trafficking.

Three Pat Jasan activists have been injured by land mines and one 19-year-old member has been shot dead. The group claims to have destroyed many acres (hectares) of poppies. They say they were told that the military would not provide security for any future attempts at clearing the poppies because Pat Jasan is not a registered organization.

Officials with the state anti-drug police did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

Myanmar is the world's second-biggest producer of opium after Afghanistan. Most opium is produced in Shan and Kachin states, and in Kachin state, drug use is especially common among the young and among migrants who scavenge the detritus from gem mines.

The area is part of the infamous Golden Triangle, the drug-producing area where the frontiers of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet. The Myanmar government and local authorities in 1999 launched a 15-year plan to eliminate opium poppy cultivation, but last year the deadline was extended to 2019.

Although there are accusations that the military has profited, the drug trade has flourished largely because of political considerations. In some cases, ethnic minority groups fighting the government have helped finance their struggles through the drug trade, but in others the government has ignored the trade in exchange for ethnic militias' loyalty.

Pat Jasan was formed two years ago when community anti-drug activists joined hands with the Kachin Baptist Convention, the state's most influential civil institution.

The Pat group had been on its way to destroy poppy cultivation in Sadon-Kambaiti, in northeastern Kachin state bordering China, when they were stopped earlier this week in Wai Maw township outside the state capital Myitkyina.

"All we wanted is to stop poppy production and drug addiction among young people," said Tang Gun, a leader of Pat Jasan. "We are losing our society and this is why we are campaigning against poppy production."

"We don't understand why we are banned from destroying poppies," he said. "The authorities should actually ban the poppies from being grown, not us. The poppy fields are in their area of control."