Convincing international community biggest challenge for war-on-drugs critics: researcher

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Shan State, Myanmar

The Burmese military is clearly involved in the drug production and trade in Burma but convincing the international community would be the most daunting task, according to a British researcher speaking to researchers in Chiangmai last week.


Panhsay Kyaw Myint

Patrick Meehan, a Ph.D candidate from the Oxford School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, who has been engaged in in-depth research since 2009 including 9 months of field research in Shan State, quoted excerpts from the 2010 UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report to prove his point:


  • (T)he best deterrent for state interference with this (poppy cultivation) process is a rebel army. Without an active conflict, heroin production can be eliminated.
  • (U)sing the armed forces to promote internal instability may be seen as cost effective.

The two central arguments in this approach to Burma’s drug trade, he says, are:

  • War finances rebel armies
  • Drugs weaken state power

In the meanwhile, drugs have benefited the Burmese military through its people’s militia strategy which is enshrined in the 2008 constitution:

  • by accommodating its ‘live off the land’ policy in borderlands
  • by reducing territory which was hitherto safe for resistance armies to enter
  • by controlling the choke points of the regional economy based on drugs


U Myint Lwin

The People’s Milita Forces (PMFs) in Shan State have been given a free hand in drug production and trade, according to reports from Palaung Women’s Organization (PWO) and Shan Drug Watch (SDW). Mr Meehan’s report include two of the most prominent PMF leaders who are also top businessmen as well as government MPs: Panhsay Kyaw Myint and U Myint Lwin aka Wang Guoda.


Opium production in Burma during the last season had gone “no holds barred”, with the paradoxical exception of areas under the control of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), considered the largest drug trafficking organization in Burma.

Meehan is not the only critic to the current drug policy of the international community. Best known critics include Bertil Lintner, Adrian Cowell (deceased), Chao Tzang Yawnghwe (deceased) and the Amsterdam-based Transnational Institute (TNI). All have called for a political solution for the drug problem in Burma.

Shan CBOs meanwhile have called for a bottom-up initiated remedy rather than top-down solutions.