New Opium Elimination Plan in Myanmar

Opium poppy. Photo: Laughlin Elkind/Flickr

Opium poppy after harvest. Photo: Laughlin Elkind/Flickr.

A recent peace initiative in Myanmar’s eastern Shan State could play a key role in poppy eradication in a country which is the world’s second largest opium producer, experts say.

“It’s a very important milestone,” Jason Eligh, country manager for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Myanmar, told IRIN explaining a new plan to wean farmers off poppy in rebel-controlled areas. “It demonstrates a good starting point in developing trust.”

The plan, involving the Burmese government and its military, an armed ethnic group in Shan State, and UNODC, will allow survey staff into Shan State, responsible for 90 percent of the country’s poppy cultivation.

Despite past government efforts to rid the country of poppy, the rate of cultivation has steadily risen over the past six years, experts say. » More

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Landmine Casualties Rising in Kachin, Myanmar

Landmine survivor. Image by International Campaign to Ban Landmines/Flickr.

Former rebel fighter Lahpai Hkam has been in pain every day since a landmine destroyed his lower right leg during a battle with government soldiers 18 months ago in Myanmar’s northern Kachin State.

“The artificial leg that I was given last year doesn’t fit properly and it rubs on my stump causing a lot of pain,” he said in a hospital in Laiza, the de facto capital of the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO), the political wing of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), which has been fighting for greater autonomy from the Burmese government for the past six decades.

According to rebel Kachin surgeon Brang Sawng, such stories are common and the number of landmine injuries is on the rise. » More

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Shocking Satellite Photos Open New Avenues for Conflict Prevention and Response

Before-and-after images posted by Human Rights Watch show buildings destroyed or severely damaged by violence that began on March 20, 2013 in Meiktila, Myanmar.

Before-and-after images posted by Human Rights Watch show buildings destroyed or severely damaged by violence that began on March 20, 2013 in Meiktila, Myanmar.

Within a week after sectarian riots and arson attacks tore through central Myanmar, conflict monitors and human rights advocates could see the damage via satellite images and tally the number of buildings burned and acres destroyed. In the not-so-distant past, similar data collection required weeks or months of field surveying and interviews with victims and observers; in some cases, post-conflict documentation was delayed for years by government prohibitions on investigations, as well as ongoing violence and safety risks. But the use of geospatial technology such as satellite imagery is rapidly changing human rights monitoring and conflict prevention work, making detailed documentation of violence and rights abuses possible almost in real-time. » More

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Drones and Drug Politics in China and Myanmar

Naw Kham Before Execution

Naw Kham before execution. Screenshot from China Central Television News video.

Burmese drug lord Naw Kham and fellow gang members Hsang Kham from Thailand, Yi Lai, and Zha Xika from Laos were executed by China  on March 1, 2013 after being found guilty of killing 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong River in 2011.

The execution grabbed the world’s attention for two reasons. First, Chinese state-run TV networks aired the execution parade, a decision which enraged many people in Myanmar and even in China. Second, the Chinese government admitted that it considered the use of drones in 2012 to capture Naw Kham who was then hiding in a rural village in Laos. It was the first time that China publicly acknowledged that it had acquired drones.

Naw Kham’s execution triggered widespread discussion about his criminal activities. Known as the ‘Godfather of the Golden Triangle’, Naw Kham led the 100-strong Hawngleuk Militia in the Shan State border town of Tachilek in Myanmar which engaged in drug trafficking, kidnapping and hijacking. With Myanmar as its heartland, the notorious Golden Triangle in mainland Southeast Asia is the world’s second largest producer of opium after Afghanistan. » More

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China’s Challenge in Northern Myanmar

Myanmar welcoming the Thai Prime Minister. Photo: Peerapat Wimolrungkarat/ Abhisit Vejjajiva

Northern Myanmar is strategically important to Beijing as a supply corridor and as a buffer between China’s ethnically diverse southwestern provinces and southern Myanmar. The heightened tension in northern Myanmar in the past several years presented Beijing with challenges regarding border security and maintaining a balance between Naypyidaw and various ethnic forces with strong connections to Beijing.

While Beijing remains the most important mediator in the ethnic conflicts, its broader strategic interests in the country played a part in Beijing’s reluctance to openly engage with ethnic forces involved in the fighting. With Naypyidaw gradually gaining support from the West, Beijing has to contend with Western threats to its energy and transport interests and with ethnic issues threatening stability along its border. » More

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