YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A grassroots anti-drug organization whose members are on a march through northern Myanmar to destroy opium poppies in farmers' fields say 14 of their members were wounded when they were attacked with automatic weapons and hand grenades.
Members of the Pat Jasan organization said they did not know the identity of the men who attacked them Thursday as their march of more than 1,300 members continued through Kachin State. One member was previously shot to death and three wounded by a land mine.
Myanmar is the world's second-biggest producer after Afghanistan of opium, from which heroin is derived. Kachin State, which borders China, is one of the country's two main areas from growing opium.
The group was formed about two years ago because of increasing drug abuse in the Kachin community. It faces opposition from poor farmers who make a living from growing opium and ethnic militia groups trafficking in drugs.
The authorities on Tuesday had given Pat Jasan permission to carry on with its march, after blocking it for a week because of what they said were safety concerns. The group said they were promised protection by the police.
Lum Hkawng, the secretary of the group, said there were two attacks on the activists Thursday as they were destroying poppy fields in Wai Maw township in northeastern Kachin State. The condition of the wounded people was not known.
"We don't understand why the police just disappeared suddenly when there was the attack instead of protecting Pat Jasan," he said, adding that they were trying to find out more from the Myanmar Army military commander for the region.
Zahkung Ting Ying, longtime leader of the New Democratic Army-Kachin militia group, which now has been transformed into the local border guard force under the Myanmar military in the area where the incidents occurred, was not reachable for comment.
Earlier this week, Pat Jasan, which is affiliated with Kachin State's Christian churches, called on the National League for Democracy party for support. The NLD, led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won last November's general election is will take over government next month.
Parliament on Wednesday agreed to consider a proposal to support the anti-drug group.
Pat Jasan also called on the National League for Democracy for support earlier this week in the form of an official policy. The parliament accepted a proposal on Wednesday to consider support the poppy-clearing group.