02/20/2016, 12.00
MYANMAR
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Burmese army and the police “preventing destruction of opium fields"

by Francis Khoo Thwe

Pat Jasan anti-drug activists targeted: three workers injured by a mine, another shot dead. The group, affiliated to the Kachin Christian movements, has been banned. Myanmar is the second largest producer in the world after Afghanistan. Crops are a major business and a commodity of political exchange between the military and ethnic groups.

 

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The Burmese army and the police are preventing the destruction of opium fields in northern Myanmar, particularly in the Shan and Kachin regions, where production of the poppy from which heroin is derived is concentrated.

The country of South-East Asia is the second largest in the world behind Afghanistan and, in recent years, has experienced continuous growth not only in cultivation of the drug, but also in its consumption especially among the young.

The Pat Jasan Group, a movement against drugs affiliated with the Kachin Christian Churches, has mobilized more than a thousand people in the campaign of eradication of the plant that began in early January. However, operators have so far met with fierce resistance not only among the peasants, but also among the militias who profit from the drug trade. And they have been banned by the authorities.

In recent days, three Pat Jasan activists were injured in the explosion of anti-personnel mines; a 19-year-old boy was shot dead. The group also reported that the military no longer guarantees the safety of workers involved in clearing the fields, because it "is not a registered organization."

In 1999 the Burmese government had launched a biweekly plan to eliminate opium cultivation. However, last year it was extended until 2019. Moreover, opium is not just a big business, but over time it has even become a political bargaining chip in a game of alliances and conflicts between the army and ethnic groups.

A report by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in 2013 reported that the "Golden Triangle" (the area that includes the territories of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos) covers "at least 18%" of the cultivation and sales of opium worldwide. And the year before Myanmar was placed second, behind Afghanistan, for global production of opiates due to a growth of crops among Shan and Kachin ethnic minorities who are often at war with the central Burmese government.

Questioned on the matter at the time of publication of the document, Catholic AsiaNews sources in the region spoke of a "growing phenomenon." There are historical reasons that go back to the times of the British colonialism, when "the cultivation was legal"; a factor which led to heavy imbalances, because "the people used to opium, while there was no rice". Over time, continued the source, the drug "has become big business, as well as economic support for ethnic minorities of Myanmar" at war with Naypyidaw.

For poor families drugs has become "a sort of possibility for redemption. But the consequences are devastating: arrests, broken families, abandoned children, and in the villages addicts who look like real walking dead. "A cause for major concern, concluded the source, is the consequences on “young people, for whom it promises a dark future ". Over the years the Catholic Church and the missions have initiated rehabilitation centers, which support educational projects for children and adults.

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