Burma Partnership, Strengthening Cooperation for a Free Burma
Signup Now!
Join our mailing list for latest news and information about Burma.

6 – 12 October: Burma Army Continues to Use the Drugs Trade as a Weapon of War

October 14, 2014

1 March 2008 Photo By IrrawaddyA new report by Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand (KWAT), “Silent Offensive: How Burma Army Strategies are Fuelling the Kachin Drug Crisis” outlines the severity of the drug problem in northern Burma as well as the complicity of the government in the trade. The report shows how the government is using opium-growing militia forces in its operations against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) as part of a deal in which these militias are given free rein to produce and sell heroin and other narcotics.

Thus, as the report points out, it is members of either Burma Army controlled Border Guard Forces (BGF) such as the New Democratic Army – Kachin (NDAK), a splinter group of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) that became a BGF in 2009, or People’s Militia Forces (PMF) that are heavily involved in offensives against the KIO. Land that is taken by the Burma Army and its proxy forces is then allocated to BGFs/PMFs to utilize however they like. This is often opium cultivation, heroin production and methamphetamine production. To make matters worse these are areas under which the KIO had previously been involved in anti-drug activities but since BGFs or PMFs have taken over, opium cultivation has increased greatly in areas such as Nampaka in northern Shan State and Chipwi in Kachin State.

It is not only armed actors who are complicit in this appalling state of affairs. Government officials benefit from taxing opium growers while leaders or former leaders of BGFs and PMFs heavily involved in the trade are members of parliament. For example, the main opium growing areas in Kachin State, Chiwpwi and Waingmaw, which the NDAK and Burma Army control, are represented in the Union Parliament by the former NDAK leader, Zakhung Ting Ying. The report explains that “in Kachin-populated regions of northern Shan State, the main opium growing areas are in Muse District under the control of the Burma Army and thirteen government People’s Militia Forces, three of whose leaders are MPs in the Shan State Assembly.” In Ta’ang areas, a local PMF, the ‘Pansay Militia’ which is led by Kyaw Myint controls the opium trade around Namkan Township. Kyaw Myint is also an MP for the ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The complicity of government controlled BGFs in the drug trade is not limited to Kachin State. In a report released in March 2014, Karen Human Rights Group note “an increase in the production and sale of methamphetamines by Tatamadaw-Border Guard Forces (BGF) soldiers in Hpapun and Hpa-an districts.”

Thus the involvement of BGFs and PMFs cannot be seen as isolated to the war in Kachin and northern Shan State, but is a systematic and widespread policy. So while the government announced a new policy and action plan for next year to combat the drugs trade, working together with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), including softer penalties for drug users, this is inadequate. The structure of the drugs trade, including the use of drugs as a tool in the war against ethnic nationalities who are armed for political purposes, is not being addressed.

The narcotics trade is being used as a political play to consolidate power by the Burma Government and Burma Army. There is no real political will to stop this lucrative business, but the victims are the people who become dependent on opium, heroin, or methamphetamines, either for their livelihood or because they become addicted, the social effects of which are extremely destructive. The international community must realize that the authorities are very much complicit in the trade and must apply appropriate pressure. If the politics of this issue are ignored, the root causes of why Burma’s opium production is second only to Afghanistan and has been increasing every year since 2006 will never be addressed and any kind of eradication program will be rendered useless. After all, it is not just the domestic market where the drugs produced in Burma reach, and thus it is the responsibility of regional and international actors too.

News Highlights  

Heavy fighting between the Burma Army and Democratic Karen Benevolent Army take place in Kawkareik and Hlaingbwe townships in Karen State, forcing hundreds of villagers to flee their homes while the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and the National Democratic Alliance Army-Eastern Shan State (NDAA-ESS) denounce Burma Army attacks in Shan State, saying it is undermining the peace process

Inside Burma    

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners says there was only one political prisoner out of 3,073 detainees released on 7 October in the general amnesty ordered by President Thein Sein

All Burma Federation of Student Unions plans to hold students’ emergency meeting over the national education bill in November

Although Burma Army has returned 360 underage boys to their families, many more remain in military barracks, despite the practice being banned two years ago

Three bombs explode in Taunggyi, Shan State injuring two people, although the culprits are as yet unknown

In Arakan State, residents and activists says Burma authorities beat and arrest Rohingyas who refuse to register with immigration officials as Bengalis


New special economic zone to be established in Mae Sot, Thailand a border town with Burma, in order to boost manufacturing activities and cross border trade and Burma and Thailand agree to restart the project of Dawei Special Economic Zone planned for an undeveloped seaside area in Tenasserim Region, which has seen major public outcry over land rights violations and lack of community consultation

Regarding Thailand’s Koh Tao murder case allegedly involving two Burmese migrant workers, Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha insists Burma’s President Thein Sein is satisfied with the arrests, despite Thein Sein’s call for a clean and fair investigation and Burma’s army chief, Gen Min Aung Hlaing, calls for justice, urging the Thai Government to ensure the Burma embassy’s special investigation team on the case can conduct their work freely to uncover the truth

On the Thailand-Burma border of Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district, Thai army seizes 200,000 methamphetamine pills and 13kg of crystal methamphetamine from two men wading across the Mae Sai river from Burma

Following Singapore’s senior Minister of State for Law and Education’s four-day visit to Burma, Burma and Singapore boost legal cooperation between the two countries through new agreements


Japanese energy company Marubeni Corp. signs a deal with Burma Government to carry out a feasibility study for a coal-fired power plant which could generate as much as 2,000 megawatts of electricity in Burma


Basic Rights are Forgotten
Bangkok Post

Hope for Myanmar Democracy Now Fading
The Nation

Latest from the Blog

“Winds of Change” Blow a Gale of Human Rights Abuses
By Burma Partnership


TAKE ACTION! Write to the authorities of Burma, urging them to release human rights defender Phyu Hnin Htwe immediately and unconditionally

With the continue of a sit-in protest until the demands are met, protesters from Michaungkan begin a hunger strike for one day at Maha Bandula Park, calling for the release of a community leader Sein Thein who was arrested and sentenced to an eight-month imprisonment on charge of staging an unauthorized protest in July

On the occasion of Thai prime minister’s visit to Burma, a group of protesters led by former political prisoner Nay Myo Zin demonstrate in front of Rangoon City Hall on behalf of two Burmese migrant workers accused of murdering two British tourists on the Thai holiday island of Koh Tao, calling for Thai authorities to ensure a free and fair trial for them

Statements and Press Releases

Network Calls for Significant Problems to be Addressed Before Dawei SEZ Project Revived
By Dawei Development Association

Myanmar Takes Global Lead on Company Ownership Transparency
By Global Witness

New report by Kachin Women’s Association Thailand: Burmese Military Strategies Fuelling Kachin Drug Crisis
By Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand

Replacing Impunity with Accountability
By Karen Human Rights Group

Thai PM’s Meet with Myanmar President Must Produce Real Results for Exploited Migrants
By Migrant Worker Rights Network

Heavy Shelling during Renewed Burma Army Offensive Causes Civilian Deaths and Further Displacement of Hundreds in Central Shan State
By Shan Human Rights Foundation


Silent Offensive: How Burma Army Strategies are Fuelling the Kachin Drug Crisis
By Kachin Women’s Association – Thailand

The Shell Starts to Crack? Real Owners of Myanmar’s Oil and Gas Come Forward
By Global Witness

This post is in: Weekly Highlights