Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pro Myanmar government militias fighting KIO growing opium says rights group

A poster of church-led drug eradition is put in front of a Kachin Baptist Church in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state

A new report released by the Kachin Women's Association of Thailand (KWAT) says Burma's military is allowing pro-government militias operating in Kachin and Shan states to grow opium in exchange for their support in the army's campaign against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), a group that has been in conflict with the central government since a ceasefire broke down in June 2011.

The rise in drug production that has coincided with the resumption of fighting in Kachin state has led to serious consequences for the Kachin population, says KWAT an organization founded by Kachin exiles.

The report titled “Silent Offensive - How Burma Army strategies are fuelling the Kachin drug crisis”, claims that Border Guard Force (BGF) units comprised of troops formally affiliated with the New Democratic Army - Kachin are heavily involved in the production of opium in eastern Kachin state's Chipwe (Chipwi), Sadung and Tsawlaw townships.

The report quotes local people from the area describing an abundance of poppy plants being grown. “After the war, the number of fields in mountain areas under the NDA-K (now Border Guard Forces) has increased greatly. They easily get workers and also pay them very little.

People from the (IDP) camp are now working in the opium fields,” said a social worker based in refugee camp on the China-Burma border near Sadung.

Despite the fact that large amounts of opium is openly being grown in Chipwe the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has so far failed to list this township as a “high-risk” opium growing area. Although the UNODC does list Kachin State's Waingmaw and Danai (Tanai) townships as “high-risk” places for opium production the absence of Chipwe according to the report's authors calls in to question the UNODC's claim that there has been 10% reduction in the opium crop in Kachin State since 2012.

The NDA-K's founder and long-time chief Zahkung Ting Ying (also spelled Za Khun Ting Ring) now serves as a member of the national parliament representing a constituency that covers a corner of north eastern Kachin state that he has dominated for many years.

The NDA-K was the successor to a Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) unit led by Zahkun Ting Ying's that broke-away from the KIO in 1968 to join forces with the Communist Party of Burma (CPB). In 1989 following the complete collapse of the (CPB), Ting Ying with the support of troops under his command created the NDA-K, quickly reaching a ceasefire with the central government.

The NDA-K's deal with Burma's military regime resulted in the establishment of Kachin state Special Region No. 1 and enabled the group to profit from the cross border timber trade at Kambaiti and Pangwa during a period that saw the vast clear cutting of forests in Kachin state. Much of the NDA-K territory remains bare of trees thanks to the massive level of timber cutting that took place on Ting Ying's watch.

Zahkung Ting Ying continues to hold a significant amount of influence in what was Special Region No 1. even though the NDA-K officially disbanded in November 2009. At the time the group transformed into a BGF it was thought to have some 1,000 troops. The ex NDA-K soldiers were re-assigned to among four different BGF units based at Pangwa (Chipwe township), Kambaiti (Sadung township) and Hpimaw (Tsawlaw township).

BGF units comprised of ex NDA-K forces were repeatedly involved in clashes with the KIO in 2012 and 2013. Most of the clashes also involved Burma army units fighting alongside the ex NDA-K troops.

According to KWAT in Kachin inhabited areas of northern Shan State opium is being grown in parts of Muse District that are held by the both the Burma army and 13 government-backed militia's called People’s Militia Forces. Three of the heads of the people militia units are members of the Shan state assembly Wang Goi Ta a.k.a. Myint Lwin who heads the Mung Nye militia, Kying Mai who heads the Mung Baw militia and Li Shau Yung a.k.a Kyaw Myint who heads a militia based at Panse in Kutkai Township. A fourth militia based in Kutkai township is headed by U Hkun Myet who like Zahkung Tin Ying serves in the national parliament.


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