Kachin rebels say poppy fields are in areas under military control

The Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) challenges a UN investigation, done with the government. More than 6,000 acres are under poppy cultivation near military camps and government militias bases in Tanai. A “distorted picture of the link between conflict and opium is being conveyed”.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Opium in the northern state of Kachin is not grown in areas where armed rebel groups operate, but in those under the control of the Myanmar military, this according to the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), the political arm of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has been fighting for the self-determination of the mostly Christian (90 per cent) Kachin people.

Yesterday, KIO asked the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to correct a recent report that claims that areas under the armed group’s control have some of the highest concentrations of opium cultivation in the country.

“When we looked at the UNODC survey, we found that they did not go to the area to do the survey for their report,” said KIO spokesman Col Naw Bu. “They relied on information from a person or organisation. If they had done the survey on the ground themselves, their survey report would not be wrong like this”.

The survey, the UNODC’s 16th in Myanmar, was carried out in cooperation with the Home Affairs Ministry’s Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control, combining satellite imagery and a yield survey to evaluate the extent of opium poppy cultivation and production.

The KIO says 6,000 acres (2,428 hectares) are under poppy cultivation in Kachin State’s Special Region 1, under the control of the Kachin Border Guard Force, a former militia now under the authority of the Myanmar military.

Another 1,000 acres (404 hectares) or more are also under poppy cultivation in the state’s Tanai Township in areas under the control of the Myanmar military itself.

KIO sent a letter dated 15 February to the UNODC office in Bangkok pointing out the report’s alleged mistakes and asking for a correction.

The areas under the densest cultivation, the letter says, “are actually located close to the Myanmar military and government militia camps in and around the town of Tanai.”

“By failing to mark the Myanmar military presence in the ‘armed groups’ map . . . a distorted picture of the link between conflict and opium is being conveyed,” it adds.