The Myanmar Army raided the headquarters of an offshoot of the rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in northern Shan state on Thursday, seizing illegal drugs, interrogating leaders, and confiscating about 1,000 weapons, an officer in the militia told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
When soldiers from Myanmar’s 99th Light Infantry Battalion invaded the Kaungkha militia headquarters in Lwekham village, they ordered the militiamen to surrender their guns, he said.
The registered armed group has 850 soldiers and more than 2,000 reservists not registered with the Myanmar government, as well as liaison offices in five townships in northern Shan state.
“They have taken control of the Kaungkha headquarters and restricted people’s entry,” said the militia officer, who declined to give his name for fear of retribution.
“They confiscated all the weapons and detained some of the leaders,” he said.
Though government soldiers are holding some of the leaders of the militia’s 10 groups in the town of Lashio, they have released others, he added.
“Some were summoned by name, while others were asked to attend a meeting on March 24, and then were detained,” he said. “Some groups may have been related to the drug cases in the area.”
The Kaungkha militia, also known as the Kachin Defense Army (KDA), signed a cease-fire with government army in 1991. The militia has been known for its involvement in drug trafficking and the production of methamphetamine tablets.
Leaders and members of the militia who hail from Yeinmaw and Hophyat villages and a leader from Lwelkham village, where large amounts of illegal drugs were found, have now been accused of being involving in drug manufacturing and failing to inform authorities about illegal drug activities.
The Myanmar Army discovered illegal narcotics and other materials and equipment valued at 267 billion kyats (US$187 million) during an 11-day period in late February and early March in Lwekham and Kaungkha villages, which were under the control of the Kaungkha militia, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
The officer also said that KDA vice chairman Zaw Ten is still at the militia’s headquarters, but secretary Dee Khun, and other leaders, including Zhum Khon, are being interrogated at the Myanmar military’s North Eastern Command headquarters in Lashio.
The weapons confiscated from the militia are used for the group’s own protection and not for an insurgency against the state, he said, adding that Myanmar forces should rightly take action against illegal drug activity in the region, but not to go so far as to disarm the entire militia.
Related to drug cases
Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier Gen Zaw Min Tun told RFA that he was not aware of a raid on the Kaungkha militia headquarters or the interrogation of its leaders, but that government soldiers are taking action against armed groups that have failed to inform authorities about drug-trafficking activities.
“I haven’t heard about it,” he said about the raid. “They must have somehow related it to the drug cases in the region because drug traffickers cannot do their jobs without going through local armed groups.”
Drug manufacturers, users, and those who fail to notify authorities about illegal drug activities can be prosecuted under Myanmar’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law, he said.
“So they could be found guilty under the law,” Zaw Min Tun said. “As for us, we will act according to the law.”
The Myanmar Army did not confirm whether the militia is under its control, as are other such groups that operate in Myanmar.
Kutkai township residents said Myanmar soldiers have blocked roads in and out of Kaungkha village and are monitoring vehicles.
Villagers said the troops are now stationed on a prayer hill, a sacred place for local ethnic Kachin Christians.
“They are staying there temporarily for now,” said a resident who requested anonymity out of fear for his safety. “They haven’t built any permanent structures.”
“But many local civilians visit the site for religious services,” he said. “They [soldiers] claimed that they are taking care of security, but we don’t trust them since everyone is afraid of the solders.”
Northern Shan state, which borders China, is a hotbed for flagrant drug activity, with the narcotics of choice being heroin and methamphetamine, an extremely addictive stimulant in the form of a white, bitter-tasting crystalline powder commonly sold as “yaba” tablets.
The rebel Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Kokang ethnic armed group are active in the area controlled by Kaungkha militia, though they have not engaged in clashes with the militia.
Residents predict that armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the two ethnic armies could flare up if local militias, which help keep the peace, are eliminated.
Reported by Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.