The United Wa State Army in Myanmar’s Shan state seized drugs after a firefight with drug smugglers last week, UWSA said on Monday as the UN praised a two-month operation in which the country’s police and military seized a record amount of methamphetamine and other drugs in the state.
The UWSA, Myanmar's largest non-state military force, got into a firefight May 14 with about 40 smugglers, killing one trafficker and capturing one, the USWA said, adding that it had seized 3.5 million methamphetamine pills, among other drugs.
According to the UWSA’s anti-drug trafficking special task force, the seized drugs were produced in Myanmar and the smugglers were attempting to take them to Thailand.
“Drug production and trafficking is a constant in Myanmar, and smugglers are changing routes as the country is [closing up] as it struggles to detect the spread of COVID-19,” Nyi Rang of the UWSA’s Lashio office told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“After we investigated, we found that the drugs are fairly easy to produce practically anywhere in Myanmar,” Nyi Rang said.
The day after the firefight, in an unrelated operation, the UWSA seized 1.8 billion kyats (U.S. $1.3 million) worth of meth, along with arms and ammunition from a Chinese national who had illegally entered Wa territory, he said.
The UWSA’s anti-drug actions last week were small in comparison with the February-April operation by Myanmar’s military, centered on Kutkhai township in northern Shan, which yielded the largest drug seizure in the history of East and Southeast Asia, the U.N. drug office said.
“The operation started with a modest seizure of methamphetamine yaba tablets which subsequently led to the discovery of: 193.55 million tablets (equivalent to 17.4 tons of methamphetamine), over 500 kg of crystal methamphetamine and 630 kg of ephedrine; 3,748.5 liters of methyl fentanyl; 292 kg of heroin, 588 kg of opium and 49 kg of morphine; 6.8 kg of ketamine; and various precursor and pre-precursor chemicals totaling 35.5 tons and 163 thousand liters,” the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said in a statement Monday.
“We are pleased to report the results of the operation with UNODC, and to make it clear to traffickers that their days of operating in Myanmar are numbered”, Colonel Zaw Lin, Head of Law Enforcement of the Myanmar Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) was quoted as saying in the statement.
But the news of the seizures came after a UNODC report published Friday which said the synthetic drug market in East and Southeast Asia is expanding and diversifying, with the price of methamphetamines dropping to its lowest level in the past 10 years as a result of sharp increases in supply.
The report said that the number of cases in which synthetic opioids identified among illicit drug supplies in the region jumped to 28 in 2019 from three in 2014, and that agents are seizing the substances in new locations as organized crime expands its business.
Business still booming
Sources in Shan state told RFA that the anti-drug efforts are doing little to stop drug manufacturers and traffickers there.
“Even though the operation in Kutkhai township [resulted in] the military seizing over a million [dollars] worth of drugs, business is still booming and prices are still falling,” Tin Maung Thein from the Mana anti-drug trafficking group told RFA.
“Before a pill was over 1,000 kyats ($70), but now it’s about 200 or 300 ($14-21),” he said.
Esther from the Mone Paw Anti-trafficking group told RFA, “The sale and use of drugs is not decreasing in the region.”
The COVID-19 pandemic is also hampering the government’s ability to fight the war on drugs, according to the UNODC.
“We are worried that the government’s efforts to control the drug situation [are less effective] because they are concentrating on COVID-19 [right now],” Soe Nay Tun from the UNODC’s Myanmar office told RFA.
But Myanmar’s government said that the efforts were successful.
“Our drug eradication [strategies] are working as usual,” Win Thein, Shan State’s deputy police chief, told RFA.
The president’s office said the war on drugs was paramount to making peace in the region.
“Drug control is related to the peace process, and the government is mainly working for peace,” presidential office spokesman Zaw Htay told RFA.
Reported by Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Khin Ei. Written in English by Eugene Whong.