Monday, February 23, 2009

Drugs – junta’s short and straight road to Obama

Shan Herald Agency for News

Drugs-again-appear to be a key factor in the ruling military junta’s attempt to influence a change in the new US administration’s Burma policy in its favor.

The regime had already tried at least once during the first years of George W. Bush who came to office in 2001. Well-known DCI Associates was contracted to lobby for it. Violent crackdown on poppy cultivation in northern Shan State was launched. The campaign culminated in the visit to Washington by Brig-Gen (then Col) Kyaw Thein on 13 May 2002 to meet with the drug officials there.

However, feelings against the junta were high in the US capital, especially after the 20-June 2002 publication of License to Rape by the Shan Human Rights Foundation (SHRF) and Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN), a scathing report on the regime’s use of sexual violence in the war against the armed opposition in Shan State. Which finally led to call it quits by Gen Khin Nyunt, the lobby’s mastermind.

Now, 7 years after, with the election of Barack Obama who has arrived amid the Hamburger crisis on the world’s stage with a vow for change, the leaders in Naypyitaw are dusting off their old lobbying strategy.

The first indication came with persistent directives to the commanders in Shan State for an all out war against poppy cultivation. They came at a time when earlier warnings by local army units, whose survival depends on the local people’s monetary and food contribution, to grow poppies “only on the nape (out of sight) and not on the forehead (in sight)” had largely become too routine to the point of being ignored by both the warners and warned.

Many fields in Southern Shan State grown within eyesight from the motor roads were thus struck down by the Army. “We have already paid our taxes for the season,” complained a farmer in Namzang, who was unaware of the orders from above. “Why are they doing this?”

Knowing the dilemma the local troops were facing, Naypyitaw even dispatched its own security units to the Shan-Kayah border to destroy several fields, reported border-based Karenni Anti-Drugs Action Committee (KADAC) in December.

Unfortunately for the farmers, though many more fields were spared by the local army columns, they were not by the gods who appeared to be in favor of the regime. According to sources from southern Shan State, a large number of fields were either washed away or sunk by the late monsoon downpours. Some of those that survived the rains were later stunted by intense frost bite.

Bu all accounts, only fields in eastern Shan State came through. “Little damage by the rains and frost,” said a pro-junta Lahu militia member in Mongton township opposite Chiangmai. “And by the time Burmese columns arrived to destroy the fields, most of them were already harvested.”

“The columns slashed down whatever that was left anyway,” he added.

Another indication came from Col Tin Maung Swe, area commander in Kunhing township, 140 miles east of Shan State capital Taunggyi, who told a meeting of government officials on 2 January that whether or not the 2010 elections would go according to plan depended on 4 factors.

* Disruptive actions by the opposition
* Continued tension with Bangladesh over territorial dispute
* Completion of national census
* Success of the drug eradication project vital in convincing the new administration in Washington

The latest haul in Rangoon on 25 January of 118kg of heroin stowed on a Singaporean flagged cargo ship involved increased cooperation not only with Chinese narcs but also with the United States’ Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), according the National League for Democracy’s Foreign Affairs Officer Nyo Ohn Myint. Not only that, he said, but a return to Washington of Lin Myaing, Burmese ambassador who was recalled following Khin Nyunt’s ouster in 2004, could be a strong indicator of the resumption of the drug lobby.

The real test of Naypyitaw’s seriousness of course would be its policy toward the United Wa State Army (UWSA), many leaders of whom are already on Washington’s blacklist.

Tension between the two sides have been on the upsurge since the termination of the nationwide referendum on the “Nargis Constitution” in May.

The group has been under heavy pressure to “exchange arms for peace,” an official euphemism for surrender, in contrast to the other main ceasefire group in Shan State, the Shan State Army (SSA) North. The latter has already been informed at least twice that talks on the “exchange arms for peace” issue will be reopened only after a new government has been installed.

Obviously, this is still a big gamble.

On 18 February, Washington, through its new Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has already signaled possibility of a major shift in its Burma policy.

The question remains how Beijing will respond to it. In the meanwhile, the Opposition will be having its hands full trying to tackle with the rather uphill job for continued international support.

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