BRIEF INTERVIEWS REGARDING OPIUM: Testimony of two escaped porters from Shan State

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BRIEF INTERVIEWS REGARDING OPIUM: Testimony of two escaped porters from Shan State

Published date:
Monday, February 1, 1993

The following information was given in independent and informal interviews. The two men are Shan from central Shan State, the region of Burma which produces over half the world's opium and its refined product, heroin. They are villagers who were rounded up by SLORC troops in late 1992 and brought several days by truck under brutal conditions all the way south to southern Karenni (Kayah) State, where they were then used by the SLORC as porters in their Saw Hta offensive in northern Karen State.

The following information was given in independent and informal interviews. The two men are Shan from central Shan State, the region of Burma which produces over half the world's opium and its refined product, heroin. They are villagers who were rounded up by SLORC troops in late 1992 and brought several days by truck under brutal conditions all the way south to southern Karenni (Kayah) State, where they were then used by the SLORC as porters in their Saw Hta offensive in northern Karen State.

These men come from a region where a large proportion of the farmers are opium addicts, and as such they are aware of the logistics of opium production and use in their area. Their information implicating the SLORC for direct involvement in the drug trade raises serious questions about why the United Nations International Drug Control Program (UNDCP) and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency (USDEA) continue to give the SLORC money for "drug eradication" in these areas, when every farmer who lives there knows of the SLORC's involvement in profiting from narcotics.

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The following is the direct translation of an interview with one of the men conducted in Burmese:

Q: Which part of Shan State do you come from, and how much opium do people grow there?

A: I live in southern Shan State. Most people there grow opium in their fields.

Q: Do all of the farmers there use this opium?

A: Most of them use it. Some don't. But in the hills, most do.

Q: In your area, do most of them use it or sell it?

A: They sell it.

Q: To whom?

A: To the black marketeers.

Q: Who are the black marketeers?

A: Most are Wa and Shan and Chinese.

Q: Are they from your area?

A: Some are, but some are from Pin Long.

Q: What does the SLORC do to deal with this situation? Don't they do anything?.

A: The SLORC escorts the black marketeers. Because they've already paid a tax.

Q: Who taxes the opium farmers?

A: The Wa, and other groups at peace with the SLORC.

Q: The taxes that the Wa take, do they give them to the SLORC or keep it themselves?

A: We don’t see it, but they work together.

Q: Do they come collecting together?

A: They don't come together. The Wa collect the taxes.

Q: Do you think the SLORC ever collects the taxes?

A: Maybe. Because they're collaborating together. The SLORC don't dare show their faces, so they make the Wa do it.

Q: How much tax per year do the farmers have to pay?

A: There are many types of taxes. Tea taxes, rice taxes, opium taxes. If you plant all of them, you have to pay all of them. I can't guess how much.

Q: How do they tax the opium?

A: One ball from every 10 viss of opium. (10 viss = 16 kg)

Q: How do they take payment? Cash or opium?

A: They only take opium.

Q: As far as you know, how do they use this opium?

A: They give it to the black marketeers.

Q: Is this the only channel?

A: I don't know, I only know they give it to the black market.

Q: Did the SLORC bring any for you to use while you were porters?

A: Yes.

Q: So the SLORC brings opium on their operations. How do they use it?

A: The senior officer [the term used was 'Bomuh', meaning a Major or Colonel] keeps the opium in a steel trunk and gives it out pinch by pinch - this much.

Q: Did all the porters get it like you did?

A: Yes.

Q: Every one?

A: Yes. The officer passed it out.

Q: Does the SLORC always give opium to the porters?

A: For us, yes in Shan State, it's the same.

Q: Who controls the area where you live? The Wa from Kokang, the SLORC or the Shan?

A: The SLORC.

Q: Which SLORC Battalion or company controls your area?

A: 64 Battalion.

Q: Do you know the names of any of the commanders?

A: No.

Q: Not even one?

A: They keep changing their commanders all the time so I don't know.

Q: Do you know the names of any of the people who come to collect the taxes?

A: No.

Q: Are there any heroin factories there?

A: Not in our area. Only in Thailand.

Q: Did you just hear that?

A: Yes, I heard it. That Khun Sa produces it.

Q: Does the SLORC encourage people to produce heroin?

A: It's too far away, so we don't know.

Q: So you don't know how the Wa and the SLORC use the opium they collect as tax?

A: I don't know.

Q: Do the Wa and Shan give the opium they collect to the SLORC?

A: I don't know. But they all work together.

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The following account was given by another Shan porter:

I did field work in an opium field for two years, working for a Chinese who grew opium [the name and home town of the owner were given but are deliberately omitted from this report]. He was from northern Shan State. I'm not sure where he was born, but he could speak Burmese. There are many opium growers in the area. Almost all the field owners are Chinese, and the field workers are Shan and other ethnic groups in the area. The field owners only use Thai Baht as currency.

The owner sent all his opium to the Thai border by horse. Sometimes the other field workers and I had to go along with the horses. I was sent three times last year. Each time the Chinese owner gave each of us an M16 automatic rifle, and we walked one and a half days to the Thai border. The owner went along. When we got there he took all the opium off the horses and laid it out. Then he talked with some people there, they gave us rice and other foods which we put on the horses, and then we went back. I never saw any money, but the owner stayed behind and didn't come back with us.

While I was working at the opium field I often saw SLORC officers and soldiers from 49 Regiment come and talk with the field owner. I was never close enough to listen, so I don't know what they talked about. Each time after talking for a while the SLORC men left. This went on for the whole 2 years that I worked in the field.

When I came as a porter, the SLORC officers gave opium to the porters. I saw the officer keeping about a half kilogram of opium, which I think they got from our home area. Twice every day, the officer said "Who are the opium addicts? Put up your hands". Then he took opium on a stick and shared it out to the porters. Then he handed out headache pills to them and told them to mix it and take it. [Note: this is normal practice when taking opium.] After taking the opium, the addicts looked very strong, and could climb the mountains.

Note that while this was occurring, the same SLORC troops only giving out a handful of rice, once per day or once per days, to the same porters, and nothing to eat with it. The porters were starving, emaciated, sick and suffering constant beatings.

The "opium tax" discussed above amounts to 10 percent of the entire crop, local, domestic, and export, of opium in the entire Shan State. Opium and heroin from Shan State accounts for an estimated 60 percent of the entire supply on the streets of the world's cities. Since 1988, SLORC control over Shan State has greatly increased, and opium and heroin production have simultaneously more than doubled. Perhaps it is time the world reviewed its policy of providing the SLORC "drug eradication" money and applauding them each time they ceremonially burn a few kilograms of heroin, and began looking at what is really going on in Shan State.