By Joseph Allchin
Claims by the Burmese government that it has seized a large quantity of methamphetamine and other drug paraphernalia during fighting with the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) have been dismissed by critics and Kachin personnel as propaganda.
The claim surfaced in a New Light of Myanmar article today, which said that KIA forces had attacked a “work camp” at Tima, in Shan state’s Muse township, on 21 September. Troops captured three police officers, three Myanmar Correctional Department staff and 55 others.
During a subsequent 11-day effort to rescue the captives, the Burmese army claimed to have seized small arms, bags of gunpowder and “46 buildings”, the article said. It added that it had “rescued 37 prisoners” whom the KIA claimed it had freed from the Tima work camp.
The operation continued, and on 8 October the Burmese army allegedly seized over half a million “stimulant tablets”, tablet moulds and a machine for making pills, along with precursor chemical for methamphetamine, sulphuric acid.
This “obviously proved that despite showing various reasons, KIA group is producing and selling narcotic drugs menacing the mankind,” the newspaper said.
Author Bertil Lintner, who has written extensively on Burma’s narcotics industry, however questioned why accusations of KIA involvement in the drugs trade had not surfaced during the KIA’s 17-year ceasefire with the Burmese government, which ended in June. He told DVB that Naypyidaw “uses the drugs as a political tool”, and once ceasefires breakdown, “all these groups are involved with narcotics”.
“As soon as the groups have a ceasefire agreement with the government, you never hear anything about drugs; on the contrary they [government] defend them and claim they are not involved. With the Kokang [ethnic army], for instance, they never said anything about them and the drugs trade, and they were involved.”
Fighting between the two sides has displaced some 25,000 civilians already, whilst a report last week by the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT) claimed that 37 women and girls, some as young as nine, had been raped by Burmese troops, 13 of whom subsequently died. The Kachin News Group alleged that three women were gang-raped by Burmese forces on 7 October in Shadan Pa, west of the Bhamo-to-Myitkina road.
James Lung Dao, spokesperson of the KIA’s political wing, the Kachin Independence Organisation, told DVB that the drugs accusation was “false information”, and added that it is “impossible” to trade in narcotics without Burmese government consent. Lintner corroborated that “to my knowledge they [KIA] have never been involved in the drugs trade”.
Lung Dao added: “President Thein Sein is talking about peace in Naypyidaw… and at the same time the army is busy attacking Kachin.” He also claimed that KWAT’s numbers for rape cases were conservative estimates.
Lintner described this as a two-pronged strategy, trying to “tame” the ethnic groups after the major armies refused to sign up to the government’s Border Guard Force plan.
Along with the Kachin accusation, the New Light of Myanmar said the Karen army splinter group, the KNU/KNLA Peace Council, had handed over “arms for peace”, while a little known group from Mongla in Shan state signed a peace deal with the Burmese.
The offensive against the KIA has been a tough sell for President Thein Sein, who has been successfully improving the image of the regime, notably an apparent turnaround on the massive Myitsone hydropower project in Kachin state, and promise that 6,300 prisoners will be released tomorrow.