Myanmar: Deploying The Heroin Weapon


September 26, 2011: The government continues to negotiate with Wa and Kachin tribes in the north. These tribes have well organized armed forces, and a long history of being screwed by the lowlanders (ethnic Burmese). The tribes long ago fled the expanding Chinese empire, preferring to move rather than submit to feudal bureaucrats. In northern Burma, the tribes see the Burmese bureaucrats and soldiers as no different from the Chinese ones. Decades of Burmese broken promises makes negotiations difficult, but the tribes are anxious to get access to teachers and medical care, as well as trade with the south. So the negotiations continue, as does the violence.

The army has been fighting the Kachin tribal militias again, since June. There are over 25,000 Kachins who have fled the fighting and gathered in poorly equipped refugee camps along the Chinese border. These camps are short of food and other supplies, and the Burmese and Chinese security forces often block access. To the south, the Karen tribes have been under attack and over 20,000 Karen are in refugee camps along the Thai border.

The fighting against the Shan tribes has produced accusations that the army is using human shields (including Buddhist monks) to protect supply convoys from attack.

The newly elected "democratic" government is still largely controlled by the generals who ran the decade's old military dictatorship. But in an effort to shed the stigma of being a dictatorship, the new government is freeing thousands of political prisoners, reducing censorship and allowing more open dissent. But the government is not halting development projects (especially natural gas pipelines and unpopular dams that mainly benefit China and the generals who get a lot of cash). The few Burmese who protest the dam projects are arrested. With over 70 percent of Burmese living without access to electrical power, many are angry about all the natural gas and hydroelectric power being sold to China. But that is necessary for the generals to stay in power. China provides cash, weapons and diplomatic protection for the generals.

Western nations and India are urging the new Burmese government to continue with the reforms that appear to be dismantling the police state apparatus that has been the norm since the 1960s. But the "reforms" only go so far. The corruption and military rule are still there. It's uncertain if the current civilian rulers, selected by the generals in rigged elections, are willing, or able, to carry out meaningful reforms. The now-retired generals are still calling the shots, from behind the scenes.

September 16, 2011: The government dropped a lot of its Internet censorship (which made it more difficult, but not impossible, for Burmese to reach foreign news sites that described the Burmese dictatorship accurately.)

September 15, 2011: The U.S. openly warned Thailand that there was an enormous increase in production of illegal drugs (heroin, opium and methamphetamine) in northern Burma, and a lot of it was going to be exported to the world via Thailand (where some of the drugs would create a lot of local addicts). The Burmese military dictatorship has been using drug production as a weapon against rebellious tribes. These tribes have recently been attacking the heroin operations of pro-government tribes. The growing (or returning) heroin trade is also a source of income for the government, and the government is unhappy with these losses. To make matters worse, some of the heroin producing operations are now paying the tribal rebels for protection. Meanwhile, the government destroys poppy fields belonging to hostile tribes. This is big change from the 1990s. Overall, in the decade after 1996, opium and heroin production declined nearly 90 percent in Burma, but has been making a comeback in the last few years (and hurt Afghan heroin producers, who flourished when the Burmese supply dried up). The government has encouraged some tribes to switch sides, and oppose the rebel tribes, by giving them permission to grow poppies (which produces opium and, with a chemical transformation, heroin). In the last year, Burmese heroin went from five percent of the world's supply, to over 12 percent. Meanwhile, some tribes have switched to methamphetamine, which does not require growing poppies (for opium and heroin), just chemicals smuggled in from China (which is a growing market for illegal drugs).  

September 5, 2011: Over the Summer, the government released 20,000 prisoners from jails and work camps. Many were political prisoners. Some say the government did this mainly to save money and free up personnel for the increasing fighting against the tribes up north. Meanwhile, several thousand political prisoners remain locked up, and new arrests are made every week.




Article Archive

Myanmar: Current 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contribute. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   contribute   Close