Myanmar’s Upper House Passes Motion to Combat Drug Gangs in Shan State

2016-07-25
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Myanmar children walk through an opium plantation in Pekon township in the southern part of Shan state, March 5, 2016.
Myanmar children walk through an opium plantation in Pekon township in the southern part of Shan state, March 5, 2016.
AFP

Myanmar’s upper house of parliament on Monday unanimously approved a motion submitted by an ethnic Shan lawmaker to combat rampant illegal drug sales and use in impoverished northern Myanmar's Shan state.

Sai One Hlaing Kham, a deputy from the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy (SNLD) party, submitted the proposal to take more effective action against drug gangs who sell heroin and methamphetamine, an extremely addictive stimulant in the form of a white, bitter-tasting crystalline powder, commonly sold as “yaba” tablets.

“There are many drug gangs and users not only in the towns, but also in the villages, and there is especially a lot of heroin and yaba, or methamphetamine, in the region,” Sai One Hlaing Kham said.

“When people report the gangs and users, police arrest and take action against the dealers and users,” he said. “They disappear for a short time after they are arrested, but then they come back again.”

People in Shan state use methamphetamine because they believe it will help them to work longer hours, he said.

Sai One Hlaing Kham also proposed building a rehabilitation center for drug users with Shan state budget funds.

Maandalay’s antidrug campaign

In a related development, police in Mandalay region began an antidrug campaign on Monday to arrest major drug dealers—an operation involving more than 300 officers in Pyi Gyi Tagon, Aung Myay Tharzan, and Pathein Gyi townships, a police official said.

Police Colonel Han Tun said the operation is one of the “100 Days” priority reform programs under the new civilian-led government of President Htin Kyaw.

“We received some reports about drug users, and we have to investigate them,” he said.

So far, authorities have arrested and charged five people who entered empty houses to inject heroin in Pyi Gyi Tagon township, but they failed to arrest any drug sellers or dealers, he said.

“We investigate people when we receive letters and phone reports, and we also do surprise checks,” he said.

In March, more than 36 billion-kyat (U.S. $30.5 million) worth of heroin and methamphetamine was found in Pyi Gyi Tagon township, he said.

Opium in Kachin state

Shan state and Mandalay region are not the only areas of Myanmar that suffer from the illegal narcotics trade.

In February, Myanmar’s lower house of parliament passed an emergency motion submitted by lawmaker Lagan Zai Jung, calling on the government to encourage and support public participation in drug eradication campaigns in northern Myanmar's Kachin state.

Heroin and yaba are openly sold in Kachin, Tin Soe, a lawmaker representing the state’s Hpakant constituency, told parliament at the time.

The emergency motion was submitted following Feb. 25 attacks by unknown assailants on members of the antidrug activist group Pat Jasan as they attempted to destroy opium poppy fields in the Kanpaiktee and Sadon areas of the state.

Farmers, local militias and corrupt government officials who profit from the multibillion-dollar trade in opium and heroin oppose the group’s activities.

Myanmar is the world’s second-biggest producer of opium after Afghanistan, with most of its poppies, which are used for opium and heroin, grown in Kachin and Shan states.

Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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