Myanmar: One Pill Makes You Untouchable


December 23, 2010: The army continues to play its chess game in the tribal territories. Rather than get into major battles with tribal rebels, the army moves battalions (500 or so troops) around to disrupt the rebels. This takes the form of blocking access to roads and trails the tribes depend on for supply. These troops also loot any tribal villages they come across and drive the villagers away. The tribal rebels then have to put aside their weapons to deal with their family problems. Government efforts to manipulate the tribes has fallen apart. The government sought to disarm the tribal militias and recruit the gunmen into a government supported border guard. But not enough tribesmen trusted the government

The tribes remain a threat by making and selling illegal drugs, and resisting large scale economic development projects (mines, oil fields and such, which won't benefit the tribes). Government efforts to reduce opium and heroin (chemically refined opium) production have had some success, with opium production down twenty percent (to 330 tons) in the last year. But production of methamphetamine is soaring. Called "yaba" ("crazy drug") locally, most of it is smuggled out via Thailand. Last year, 23 million yaba tablets were seized by border police, compared to one million in 2008. So far this year, fifty million tablets have been seized in Thailand, and about half as many were seized in Laos. It's believed that less than ten percent of the methamphetamine tablets are seized. The meth labs are easier to conceal than poppy fields (opium is the sap of poppy plants) and these labs are expected to produce over 300 million tablets this year. The Wa use the profits to buy more weapons for their army, and run their own government.

A lot of the Burmese meth reaches the United States, so the U.S. and Thailand are trying to shut down the Burmese meth production. Part of this campaign involves the U.S. offering millions of dollars in rewards for the arrest of over twenty Burmese tribesmen who run the meth operations. Some had Thai citizenship, but angry Thai officials have revoked that, and advertise heavily the rewards for these foreign meth outlaws. Few of these guys are caught. They are careful, and know who to bribe. The Wa tribes are the major meth producers and have connections in China (the Wa are ethnically Chinese) and Thailand. Since the Wa are on the Chinese border, the Burmese troops have to deal with the tribal gunmen just slipping across the frontier. Chinese border guards will take a bribe to look the other way. All the Wa have to do is lose the uniforms and guns when they show up in any Chinese villages or towns.

The newly elected parliament (77 percent of the seats were "won" by candidates backed by the military dictatorship the new parliament is replacing) is still deciding who will get what jobs. But meanwhile, the police state apparatus (police, propaganda, intelligence and censorship agencies) are carrying on as usual. Censors are stopping publication of most reporting of what newly freed democracy supporter Aung San Suu Kyi says. The generals apparently believe that they can get away with vote fraud and the establishment of a phony democracy, to get out from under sanctions and a generally bad reputation abroad.



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