KIO declares war against drugs before Burma elections

Burma’s ethnic Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), declared war against drugs in a statement released October 5 in the country’s north, just weeks before the Burmese military rulers hold the nationwide elections on November 7th.

The war against drugs will be implemented in both KIO controlled areas and the  junta’s controlled areas in Kachin State and Northern Shan State, said Naw Bu, spokesperson for the KIO’s Drug Eradication Committee (DEC).
The KIO set an October 15th deadline for the complete prohibition of all types of narcotic drugs and the production, smuggling and use of addictive drugs, according to the DEC’s announcement.

After that, the KIO will make a list of all drug smugglers, producers and addicts, and will take action against them, including imposition of the death penalty, depending on the seriousness of the crime committed, the statement said.

The crackdown will be also applied to members of the KIO, said Naw Bu.

He explained the KIO’s announcement to the Thailand-based Kachin News Group today.

“We have launched our new mission in the war against drugs. Drugs are the common enemy of our Kachin people, and all human beings”, he said.

He said the mission will be led by Maj-Gen Gunhtang Gam Shawng, Chief of Staff of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the military-wing of the KIO, who was recently selected as the head of the ten-member DEC by a committee meeting in Laiza- the Headquarters of the KIO/KIA near the China border in eastern Kachin State.

Gam Shawng earned a good reputation in the previous war against drugs because he took strong action on behalf of the KIO against drug distributers, producers and users in Hpakant, a jade mining district, when he was commander of the Hpakant-based KIA battalion 6, in 1990.

On September 28, the day of his appointment, Maj-Gen Gam Shawng explained how widespread the use of illicit drugs is in Kachin State, and the upcoming drug eradication program of the KIO, according to residents of Laiza.

On September 19, the KIO burnt down the fresh heroin refinery in the area controlled by KIA’s 4th Brigade, near Kutkai Town, in Northern Shan State, which was secretly run by junta-backed militia groups.

Naw Bu said levels of opium cultivation and heroin smuggling dropped during the KIO’s war against drugs in Kachin State between 1990 and1994. But, that trend was reversed during the ceasefire period between the KIO and the ruling Burmese junta, which began in1994.

During the ceasefire period, the Burman-led military rulers initiated a drug war aimed at Kachin youth.  But, the KIO mainly focused on reconstruction projects at that time, rather than the war against drugs, added the DEC’s spokesperson.

This war against drugs mission is being launched at a time while the transportation of KIO members to the junta’s controlled areas has been forbidden by the Burmese military since early September. The transportation ban was initiated because the KIO rejected the junta’s order to surrender its weapons.

Critical addiction in Kachin State
After 1994, drug addictions among Kachin youth become the major social problem in all Kachin communities and organizations. Opium, heroin, Yama (amphetamine tablet) and other drugs are highly sought in Kachin State.

All types of drugs can be obtained easily at government schools and universities as well as every quarter in the large cities and villages, according to Kachin sources.

According to Naw Bu, currently 60-70% of Kachin youth are addicted to at least one type of drug in Kachin State, which creates problems in families, churches, communities and organizations.

In Myitkyina University, the French-based Non-governmental Organization, Medicine du Monde (MDM or Doctors of the World in English) puts special bins in the male and female toilets in the university for the disposal of used syringes after students inject heroin, the Kachin News Group reported in 2009.
100810-kachin-stateIn the Kachin capital, Myitkyina, and other towns like Waingmaw, Mogaung, Bhamo (a.k.a Manmaw) and Hpakant, international NGOs like MDM and Holland-based Artsen Zonder Grenzen (AZG or Doctors Without Border) regularly provide syringes to intravenous drug users and drug users who are infected by HIV, according to MDM and AZG workers in Kachin State.

Heroin, Yama and other drugs have been obtained easily in Myitkyina and Myitkyina University, the main Kachin populated areas under control of the junta.

The KIO founded the development program for Kachin youths called “Education and Economy Development for Youth, EEDY)” in 2004, said Naw Bu.

He accused the junta of using drugs as a weapon to counter attack the KIO’s EEDY program by destroying Kachin youth with drugs.

History of KIO’s drug eradication
The KIO collected the opium tax from 1961 until KIO chairman Maran Brang Seng announced an “Opium Free Kachin State” to the world in 1990. After the announcement, the KIO prohibited opium cultivation, producing and smuggling in Kachin State and its controlled areas in Northern Shan State.

In 1964, the KIO initiated a ban on narcotic drugs. The policy failed because the KIO had to focus its efforts on the civil war with Burmese military rulers, KIO officials said.
On April 15, 1991, the KIO made laws requiring the complete eradication of narcotic drugs in Kachin State and its controlled areas in Northern Shan State, and enforced drug eradication around Kachin State. The KIO’s war against drugs was weakened after the KIO signed the ceasefire agreement with the Burmese junta in 1994, according to KIO officials in Laiza.

From 2002-2004, the KIO took joint action with the Burmese junta in Waingmaw Township, near the China border in eastern Kachin State, to eradicate opium and other drugs.

The writer Nawdin Lahpai is editor of Kachin News Group.

Read KIO Warning Announcement on Drugs in PDF files: