Chapter: Drug production, use and the social impacts in Southeast Myanmar since the January 2012 ceasefire

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Chapter: Drug production, use and the social impacts in Southeast Myanmar since the January 2012 ceasefire

Published date:
Sunday, June 15, 2014

The following chapter appears in a KHRG report entitled Truce or Transition?, published on May 13th 2014. The report documents trends in human rights abuse and civilian responses in Southeast Myanmar since the signing of a preliminary ceasefire agreement between the Myanmar government and the Karen National Union (KNU) in January 2012. The chapter below describes the production, use and social impact of narcotics among civilians in Southeast Myanmar between January 2012 and November 2013. Since the ceasefire, KHRG has received an increasing number of reports concerning serious abuses related to the distribution of methamphetamine and its use. These reports have overwhelmingly come from the locally defined Hpa-an District and a smaller number of reports from Nyaunglebin and Hpapun districts. Villagers report the wide availability of methamphetamine pills trafficked by Tatmadaw-Border Guard Force (BGF) soldiers, which have caused increasing drug addiction and drug-related violence in the area. Villagers often feel reluctant to speak out or confront the issue, as they fear reprisal from armed traffickers. KHRG recommends that the Myanmar government take responsibility for the production and sale of drugs by Tatmadaw-BGF soldiers and enforce existing laws to hold those complicit accountable. In addition, local and international drug and rehabilitation experts should provide education on the short and long-term consequences of methamphetamine use on a person’s health and their community.

Please download a PDF version of this chapter in English and Burmese by clicking the links in the left-hand panel. 

Footnotes

[1] See United Nations Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.

[2] See Adam Cooper, Peacemaking in Myanmar: Progress to date and challenges ahead, Oslo Forum, 2012; Increasing Drug Trade, Myanmar Peace Monitor.

[3] Joshua Kurlantzick, Myanmar’s Drug Problem, Council on Foreign Relations, February 2012.

[4] Phil Thornton, “Myanmar’s rising drug trade, The Bangkok Post, February 12th 2012.In 2008, the US Congressional Record Service cited evidence that Myanmar had become the biggest methamphetamine producer in the world; see Liana Sun Wyler, Burma and Transnational Crime, Congressional Record Service, p.10, August 2008.  

[5] Liana Sun Wyler, Burma and Transnational Crime, Congressional Record Service, p. 10 August 2008.

[6] Phil Thornton, “Myanmar’s rising drug trade,” The Bangkok Post, February 12th 2012.

[7] Tom Kramer, Neither war nor peace: the future of the ceasefire agreements in Burma, Transnational Institute, July 2009, p. 29.

[8] For Fiscal Year 2013, see Memorandum of justification for major illicit drug transit or illicit drug producing countries.For Fiscal Year 2014, see Presidential Determination -- Major Drug Transit and Drug Producing Countries. In each of these instances, US President Obama used his discretionary authority to exempt Myanmar from the sanctions that are meant to accompany this determination. Though the US does not publish detailed findings to support these determinations, the decision not to apply sanctions indicates that the determination to criticise Myanmar’s record on drugs likely was not made out of a political desire to punish Myanmar.

[9] Bitter pills: Breaking the silence surrounding drug problems in the Mon community, Human Rights Foundation of Monland-Burma, June 2013.

[10] Id., p. 22.

[11] Na Khan Mway, whose real name is Saw Lah Pwe, is the leader of the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA).  He left the KNU/KNLA in 1997 and became the commander of DKBA Battalion #907. In 2007 he was promoted to head four DKBA battalions (#s 901, 906, 907 and a security battalion) as the commander of the Klo Htoo Baw (Golden Drum) Tactical Command. In May 2009 this unit was reconfigured as DKBA Brigade #5, with Na Kha Mway commanding battalions #s 901, 905, 906, 907 and 909; Brigade #5 was active in the Kyainseikgyi, Kawkareik and Myawaddy areas of Dooplaya and Hpa-an districts. Na Khan Mway is wanted in Thailand on drug trafficking allegations.

[12] Francis Wade, “The curious case of Thailand’s ‘Most Wanted’,Asian Correspondent, May 11th 2012.

[13] As of March 18th 2014, all conversion estimates for the Baht in this report are based on the official market rate of 32 baht to US $1.

[14] Saw Yan Naing,DKBA leader on Thailand’s most-wanted list,”Irrawaddy, April 25th 2012.

[15] Francis Wade, “The curious case of Thailand’s ‘Most Wanted’, Asian Correspondent, May 11th 2012.

[16]DKBA (KKO) declares Myawaddy Township a drug free zone,” Democracy for Burma, May 24th 2012.

[17] For an example in Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, villagers describe the negative impact of the widespread sale and use of drugs on the health and lives of their children, see Sources #164, #241, #155 and #159.

[18] For example, in 2013, the Tatmadaw ordered villagers from Nyaunglebin District to traffic marijuana from Hpapun District back to Nyaunglebin District. The Tatmadaw also asked villagers to grow marijuana in Hpapun and Nyaunglebin districts; see Source #275.

[19] For example, in 2013, the Tatmadaw asked villagers to grow marijuana in Hpapun and Nyaunglebin districts. They also imported methamphetaminethrough Ta Kaw Hta area and continued to promote widespread drug use in Hpapun District; see Source #275.

[20] KHRG received multiple reports of abuses by BGFs responsible for producing and selling methamphetaminein Nabu Township, Hpa-an District; see, for example, Source #199.

[21] For example Tatmadaw soldiers ordered villager to grow and transport marijuana in Nyaunglebin and Hpapun Districts; see Source #275.

[22] For example in February 2013, a DKBA soldier randomly fired his gun while high on drugs in A—village, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District; see Source #155.

[23] For an example in B--- village, Noh Hta Baw village tract, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, villagers reported that members of KPF families sometimes sell methamphetamine; see Source #241.  

[24] See Source #164.

[25] For example the KNU/KNLA-PC is reportedly involved in the methamphetaminetrade in Yaw Kuh village tract, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District; see Source #164.

[26] Kratom, also referred to as beh htee in Karen, produces a mildly narcotic sensation in users when its leaves are chewed. Kratom is outlawed in Myanmar and Thailand. In Tanintharyi Township, Mergui-Tavoy, the Myanmar government police officers and KNU leaders started to implement a plan to destroy a large harvest of the drug kratom, known locally as beh htee on January 20th 2013; see Source #272.

[27] For example, the KNU reportedly shut down a gambling parlour in Kyaikto Township, Thaton District, to combat the social impact of substance abuse; see Source #203.

[28] KHRG did not publish a single report regarding drugs in the five years before the ceasefire, but has received dozens of reports since the ceasefire.

[29] See Source #164.

[30] For a report of widespread drug use and its negative consequences in Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, see Source #155.

[31] For example local drug production led to increased drug use, with negative social impacts in Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, see Source #155.

[32] For a report of widespread drug sales in Nabu Township, Hpa-an District throughout 2012-2013, see Source #155.

[33] Two killings were reported to KHRG, both in March 2013, in Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, see Source #164.

[34] For example, in C--- village, Noh Kay village tract, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, widespread use of methamphetamines by young people has led to at least one drug-fueled rampage, during which a young man destroyed a substantial amount of property belonging to villagers; see Source #155.

[35] In October 2012, a 21-year-old woman named Naw A---, who was from A--- village, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, was raped and killed by a 23-year-old man named Saw Pah Thoo Lay who was known to use methamphetamine; see Source #144.

[36] In February 2013, a DKBA soldier randomly fired his gun while high on drugs in A—village, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District; see Source #155.

[37] In Tanintharyi Township, Mergui-Tavoy District, the Myanmar government police officers and KNU leaders destroyed crops of the drug beh htee in January 2013; see Source #272.

[38] For the widespread availability of drugs in local stores, and how that availability results in addiction and negative consequences, see Source #360.  

[39] For example, one villager reported that the biggest issue is methamphetamine, which is manufactured by the BGF Battalion #1016’s commander, Mya Khaing, packaged similarly to candy, and then is sold everywhere in the area in Nabu and Paingkyon townships; see Source #336

[40] For references to Tatmadaw, KNLA, and KNU-PC involvement in drug related abuses, see Source #164.

[41] See Source #241.

[42] In Yaw Kuh village tract, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District villagers reported in May 2013 that some villagers were selling methamphetamine on behalf of the BGF; see Source #164.

[43] As of March 18th 2014, all conversion estimates for the Baht in this report are based on the official market rate of 32 baht to US $1.

[44] See Source #164.

[45] See Source #164.

[46] See Source #155.

[47] See Source #164.

[48] See Source #170.

[49] Villagers in H--- and G--- villages, Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, do not like the impact of drugs on their towns, but cannot act because drug dealers are armed. See Source #159.

[50] Villagers in Nabu Township, Hpa-an District, complained that many villagers had become poorer because of drugs; see Sources #199 and #144.

[51] In Nabu Township, Hpa-an District; see Source #159. It is not clear to what extent these statements reflect a genuine desire to combat drug trafficking, and to what extent the ceasefire offers an excuse not to deal with the problem. For a similar account of a KNLA officer who declared that his group was opposed to drugs, but could not act for fear of upsetting the ceasefire, see also Bitter pills: Breaking the silence surrounding drug problems in the Mon community, Human Rights Foundation of Monland-Burma, June 2013, p. 54.

[52] In Tanintharyi Township, Mergui-Tavoy District, the Myanmar government police officers and KNU leaders destroyed a large harvest of the drug kratom, known locally as beh htee on January 20th 2013; see Source #272.