BANGKOK - In the lead-up to Myanmar's first elections in two decades the flow of narcotics from the country have become a flood as drug-producing rebels prepare for a showdown with the junta, experts say.
Thailand has seen the amount of illicit tablets seized surge this year and observers say nervousness about a possible military crackdown in Myanmar on armed minorities could be fuelling the increase.
Thailand-based Myanmar analyst Aung Naing Oo said ethnic rebel groups use profits from narcotics, among other resources such as teak and jade, to fund their operations.
"The increased threat of a resumption of hostilities has led to the increased activity of drug trafficking on the border because you need money," he said.
Methamphetamine, known as "ice" in its crystalline form and "yaba" when produced as tablets, has been a booming industry in impoverished Myanmar.
Chief among the traffickers, experts say, is the United Wa State Army (UWSA), which has been able to use areas under its control to grow poppies for opium and set up factories to produce methamphetamine with little fear of interference.
The UWSA, which is the military wing of the ethnic Wa people, is one of the major rebel groups to have rejected the junta's attempts to persuade fighters to join a border guard force, creating tension with the government.
It also instructed citizens in its self-administered zone in Shan state to boycott the Nov 7 elections, a move that has now been followed by Myanmar's decision apparently to completely block the area from participating.
Mr Trevor Wilson, an academic and former Australian Ambassador to Myanmar, said last year's military offensives, including against ethnic Chinese Kokang rebels in the north-east, meant "ethnic militias would want to be better prepared".
He said this may explain the surge in the amount of narcotics being trafficked but added that secrecy in Myanmar and the isolation of the groups meant it was difficult to really know what was happening.
Thailand-based Saw David Taw of the Ethnic Nationalities Council - a coalition of Myanmar ethnic groups - said there was "a rumour going around that people are preparing for war".
"The Wa do not want to start it from their side first but they will prepare. I do not think it will affect the whole country but some areas will be affected by this tension," he said.
Sep 20, 2010
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