Soldiers with the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in Myanmar’s eastern Shan state near the border with Thailand have killed eight drug smugglers and captured 10 others, along with weapons and 1.8 million stimulants, over the past two days, a spokesperson with the ethnic armed group said Friday.
USWA soldiers have been hunting drug smugglers traveling to Thailand through Wa-controlled territory since Oct. 1, Nyi Yan, an official with the USWA’s public relations officer in the town of Lashio, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
The latest raid followed one on Tuesday in which USWA soldiers shot and killed two traffickers, injured one, and captured eight others, along with a firearm and nearly 2 million methamphetamines, while acting on a tip that a large volume of drugs would be moving through Southern Wa territory near Hui Aww township’s Nanyoon village and close to the Thai border, he said.
On Wednesday, Wa authorities captured seven more traffickers carrying 3 million methamphetamine pills, according to Nyi Yan.
“We are still interrogating the traffickers,” he said.
“We have transferred [captured] traffickers to the government in the past, but I don’t know what kind of agreements our leaders will make this time.”
The Wa self-administered division is governed by the UWSA, an army with an estimated 30,000 troops which has secured a peace agreement with Myanmar’s government, but the region has a long history of involvement in the manufacturing of narcotics for international distribution.
The UWSA is believed to have overseen the farming of opium for heroin production in Shan state for decades, and Thailand accuses the group of being responsible for the majority of drugs that come across its border—an accusation the army denies.
The army recently announced that it had eliminated illegal drugs in its territory by cracking down on local heroin production and punishing drug traffickers.
‘Repairing a reputation’
Political analyst Than Soe Naing told RFA that the UWSA’s actions are part of a bid to “repair their reputation.”
“They are infamous for manufacturing drugs, and now they are trying to change that image by actively leading anti-drug campaigns,” he said.
Major Zaw Khin Aung, from the Shan State Police Force, said Shan state is home to a patchwork of different ethnic armed groups and governing bodies, and that any one of them could be responsible for looking the other way and allowing drug trafficking to occur.
“The drug trafficking can only be done if [the traffickers] have a connection with one of the ethnic armed groups,” he said.
Deputy Colonel Sai Oo of the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS), another armed group based in Shan state, suggested that Myanmar’s military was in part responsible for the drug trade in the region.
“The ethnic armed groups legitimized by the military after signing peace deals are also involved in the drug trade,” he said.
Sai Oo said that the RCSS has no ties to the drug trade and has been an active participant in drug eradication campaigns since it began peace talks with the government.
Military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun acknowledged that some ethnic armed groups the military has signed peace agreements with are involved in the drug trade.
“If they are, we announce it and explain what we are doing to eradicate the drug trafficking, in addition to taking action against them according to the law,” he said.
According to a 2018 report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), most methamphetamine production in Northern Shan state is taking place in remote regions outside of the control of the government.
Reported by Waiyan Moe Myint for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.