Southeast Asia: Myanmar Military Turns Blind Eye to Allied Ethnic Militias' Opium Trade

With Afghanistan dominating opium production worldwide for the past few years, countries like Myanmar (Burma) have seen their share of global production decline and have been quick to holler to the heavens about how they are fighting the good fight against drugs. But a report from the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) suggests that the Myanmar military is only suppressing opium production among groups with which it is in conflict (like the Shan) while simultaneously protecting growing and trafficking by militias linked to ethnic groups it favors, like the Wa, Lahu and Kachin.

Citing eyewitness accounts and its own forays into the area, SHAN found that such groups have reached a quid pro quo with the military: They help the ruling junta by providing control over their respective territories, and in return, the military leaves their opium business alone. The ethnic militias also provide economic benefits to military leaders, including expensive gifts to officers and their wives.

Opium production in Myanmar has been declining for a decade, and has shrunk from 1,700 tons in 1997 to 680 tons last year. The military junta has used that decline to woo the United Nations and Western countries, who have isolated the Yangon regime because of its repressive policies. But SHAN complains that the figure is misleading. Tough eradication campaigns have been aimed at ethnic enemies of the junta, like the Shan, while ethnic groups allied with the regime have received a free pass.

Now, while Shan peasants have been forcibly relocated or had their crops destroyed, poppy cultivation is spreading among government-favored ethnic groups in the northeast, SHAN reported.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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