By Mahn Saimon
Senior police officials from Thailand were in Naypyidaw yesterday for a meeting with their Burmese counterparts over the perennial issue of cross-border human and drugs’ trafficking.
Burma and Thailand share a lengthy and porous border, and Thailand has become the top destination for Burma’s sizeable output of narcotics, much of which comes from Shan state.
The main Shan border crossing between Tachilek and Thailand’s Mae Sai is one of Southeast Asia’s busiest trafficking routes. Despite being heavily manned, drugs continue to pour across the river that snakes its way along the frontier.
Thai police chief Wichean Potephosree, who led the delegation to Naypyidaw, told reporters yesterday that the two governments would stretch their cooperation to beyond the Mae Sai district as unofficial crossings along the 2,400 kilometre border act as gateways for traffickers.
The reputed main source for Burma’s drugs market is the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which in its heyday in the 1990s was the world’s biggest heroin producer. With some 30,000 troops, it is Burma’s largest ethnic armed group and controls swathes of territory in Shan state.
But in recent years a number of pro-government militias have risen as competitors in the market. According to the Shan Drug Watch Report, government-backed militias had indeed taken over ethnic armies as Burma’s main drugs’ producers.
Khunsai Jaiyen, who edits the report, told DVB that the Burmese government was using anti-narcotics operations as a pretext to crush the UWSA, which refused to become a Naypyidaw-controlled Border Guard Force (BGF).
“The [UWSA] has become the number one target for Naypyidaw, which is blocking business opportunities for the group,” he said. “Most of the drugs these days are produced by militias and BGF units backed by the government.”
US government figures show Thailand to be a major trading zone for narcotics produced in Burma. More than 32 million methamphetamine pills were smuggled into Thailand last year.
Trafficking of Burmese into Thailand has also been a contentious issue between the two countries. The Thai government in May announced a crackdown on human trafficking rackets, many of which lure poor Burmese over the border with promises of high-earning jobs. Many of these are then forced into slave-like conditions.