The Irrawaddy News Magazine [Covering Burma and Southeast Asia]
APRIL, 2000 - VOLUME 8 NO.4/5

War on Drugs, War on the Wa

In April, Thailand and Burma held a high-level meeting in Tachilek, where Burmese officials agreed to cooperate in fighting the flow of drugs into Thailand. But as it becomes increasingly apparent that Rangoon has no intention of delivering on its promise, Thailand may be looking to take matters into its own hands.

In recent months, Thai officials have expressed increasing concern about the massive rise in methamphetamine trafficking into Thailand and abuse of the drug by Thai youth. They predict that more than 600 million methamphetamine tablets will be imported into Thailand this year.

These days harsh criticism of Burma has been coming from Thai army chief Gen Surayud Chulanont. He has often been seen inspecting Thailand’s northern border with Burma. Unlike previous army chiefs, Surayud is not close to the Rangoon generals.

Border-based Burmese soldiers have not been receiving rations from their headquarters, according to sources. Because of this, Thai army sources said that Burmese soldiers are encouraged to join the drug business.

“The Thais are worried,” said Rodney Tasker, a Bangkok-based regional journalist. “Ten years ago Thailand was used as passage to transport heroin and opium produced from Burma’s Shan State.” Most of this heroin was sent abroad, but now yaa baa, or methamphetamines, coming from Wa-controlled areas in Burma is flooding Thailand’s domestic market, turning more and more Thai youth into addicts.

However, complicity is not limited to the Wa and Burmese. Recently, a Thai special forces soldier was arrested in northern Thailand’s Fang district for possession of 1.2 tons of ephedrine, a chemical used in the production of amphetamines. It appears that he was smuggling it to the Wa area on the border. The amount would have been enough to make 500 million methamphetamine tablets.

With the help of Chinese-Dutch chemists, the United Wa State Army is preparing to produce high quality ecstasy pills in its factories along the northern Thai-Burmese border, according to Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board. Ecstasy, popularly known as yaa ee in Thailand, has been a popular drug of choice for young partygoers in Thailand. The cost ranges from 700 to 1,500 baht.

Top Thai officials led by the Foreign Ministry have been holding inter-agency meetings. Carrying out cross-border raids to destroy yaa baa factories is one option that has been considered, although it would have serious political implications.

Now, many more Thai troops man the border with Burma. Visitors can clearly see well-equipped and tough-looking Thai soldiers driving humvees.

In addition, the Thai military is also buying two Black Hawk helicopters from the US to patrol the border and to suppress illicit drugs. Meanwhile, reports show that Wa rebels have recently acquired SAM-7 missiles off the black market in Thailand.

Well-placed sources said border skirmishes are expected.

Chinese Engineers to Help With Bases

Two delegations of engineers from China’s armed forces recently met with Burmese military officers at a navy base in Tenasserim Division from May 2 to 5, according to a report from Radio Free Asia. The meetings focused on the construction of two bases in the area with assistance from the Chinese Navy and Air Forces

Maj Gen Sit Maung, Coastal Region Military Command, Gen Kyi Min, Chief of Staff (Navy), Gen. Min Swe, Chief of Staff (Air), and other high level officials including the commander of Military Intelligence Unit 19, Colonel Thet Lwin, were present at the meetings.

At the meeting, officials decided that Navy base #58 would increase its fighting capacity and be moved to Bya Date Kyee Island, where a new airport and maintenance service center will be built by Chinese Air Force engineers cooperating with their Burmese counterpart. The cost will be US$ 5 million.

Also, a site on Shwe Kyun Aur Bay, northeast of Bya Date Kyee Island, was chosen for an army repair and maintenance base. The cost is US$2.2 million. Construction on both projects will begin in June.

 Mini Mart Diplomacy

Burma’s democracy activists are finding it easier to bump into Burmese officials overseas than to meet with them across the negotiating table. This was the case in Jakarta recently, where activists and embassy officials met by chance in a scene that speaks volumes about the political deadlock in their homeland.

As Indonesia opens up, more and more Burmese activists in Bangkok are going to Jakarta to attend seminars and conferences. Many have met high-ranking Indonesian officials. “We meet Golkar people, Wahid, everyone,” said one prominent activist in exile. Seldom do they have such access to Burmese officials.

Recently, however, a group of activists met a Burmese couple in a mini market in Jakarta. A stunned-looking husband grabbed his wife and quickly left without returning the other side’s warm greetings. Later it was discovered that the couple was none other than the Burmese ambassador and his wife. “He didn’t want to talk to us,” said the Burmese activist who met Ambassador U Nyi Nyi Thant.

Rangoon officials based in Indonesia are clearly not comfortable with such close encounters, and appear to be applying pressure on Jakarta to restrict the number of dissidents entering the country. Ironically, it was easier for Burmese exiles to enter Indonesia when Southeast Asia’s largest country was also under a military dictatorship. These days, visa-seeking Burmese in Bangkok complain of arrogance and “different treatment” from embassy officials, as Jakarta tries to respond to Rangoon’s concerns.[Top]

Schools Slowly Re-opening

After unrest prompted the closing of technical colleges in February, schools across Burma are slowly and quietly opening their doors again. In Yezin, Pyinmana, the Agriculture, Forestry, and Veternarian institutes were opened earlier this May. Sources report that all universities across Burma would be re-opened on July 15.

The government is dealing with this cautiously and has called professors and teachers to attend meetings about security issues. Analysts attribute this move as a response to Japanese pressure to open schools.

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