The United Wa State Army (UWSA), dubbed as a terrorist organization with connections to drug trafficking by the United States, held its fifth drug bonfire at its headquarters Panghsang, on the Sino-Burma border on 26 June, the ‘International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.’
The ceremony was held downtown from 7:00 to 9:30 (Burma Standard Time). It was presided over by Xiao Minliang, Vice Chairman of the Wa Central Authority together with other top leaders: Zhao Zhongdang, Bao Youliang, Zhao Guo-ang and Zhao Wenguang, and witnessed by over 2,000 participants including over 30 Chinese officials and the media, according to one of the participants.
No one from the ruling Burmese military junta was at the ceremony even though it had been invited. Not even their men stationed in Panghsang, he said.
According to Wa officials, the ceremony was held in order to reiterate its pledge to the world given in 2005.
It was the fifth ceremony. We [the Wa] have been holding drug bonfire ceremony every year since we declared our territory as drug free (in 2005), one of the Wa officials said.
The seized drug pile was torched by one of the Chinese officials at the invitation of the Wa Central Authority. The seized drugs included: over 1 million of yaba or methamphetamine tablets, 10 viss of opium, 20 kg of heroin, 1 kg of opium oil and other equipment. But there is no information on the value of the burnt drugs.
According to the Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN)’s 2009-2010 Drug Watch report, the price of opium has been climbing up, Kyat 1 million (US$ 1,000) per viss along the Chinese and Thai border areas.
Afterwards, Wa officials from the anti-drug force read out the list of drug traffickers who had been arrested in 2009. There were over 100 traffickers including both ordinary people and UWSA members from top to bottom, said another participant. They are now in prison on long term sentences.
Its deputy head of finance and Commander of the Thai-Burma border-based 171st Military Region, Wei Xuegang, is wanted both in Thailand and the US on drug charges.
Another official then expressed their gratitude to China and UN agencies for providing aid, food and other substitute support during its struggle for the elimination of drugs. The group has been doing its best in cooperating with China and other countries in the field of drug suppression, according to the source.
He said, We have tried our best to block drug flow to neighbouring countries, especially China. China is one of the countries that have been applying strong pressure to the group to stop growing opium.
Meanwhile, junta authorities had also reported holding a similar ceremony in Rangoon, according to the New Light of Myanmar report on 26 June.
However, the report did not include details of the amount and the value of the burnt drugs and where it was seized from as in the previous year. At the junta ceremony held last year in Kokang, most drugs were said to have been seized from ethnic ceasefire groups.
According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s (UNODC) 2010 World Drug Report, Burma produced 330 tons of opiates in 2009, accounting for 17 per cent of global cultivation, while methamphetamine seizures skyrocketed from one million tablets in 2008 to 23 million in 2009. Opiates, especially heroin, are the most prevalent drug in the country, the report said.
In addition, Shan Drug Watch draft report said, more poppy cultivation was found in the areas under the control of the Burmese Army than those under the ceasefire armies.
In 1999, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) embarked on a 15-year plan to eradicate the cultivation and production of all drugs in Burma by 2014. The total townships targeted were 51: 43 in Shan State, 4 in Kachin, 2 in Kayah or Karenni and 2 in Chin states.
Till date, only 10 townships out of the 51 targeted townships can claim to be poppy free while the rest are still growing poppies, said the report.
BY HSENG KHIO FAH
MONDAY, 28 JUNE 2010