Children walking through an opium plantation in Pekon in southern Shan state.Photo: Hyo Hein Hein Kyaw/ AFP
Children walking through an opium plantation in Pekon in southern Shan state. Photo: Hyo Hein Hein Kyaw/AFP

The recently-released “Myanmar Opium Survey 2018” by the United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) distorts reality, accuses ethnic rebels who are not involved in the drugs trade for being responsible for the scourge while turning a blind eye to official complicity in the trade.

That is the basic message in a commentary published on March 5 by the Transnational Institute (TNI), a Dutch-based international research and advocacy group.

The UNODC report claimed that “in Kachin State, the highest density of poppy cultivation took place in areas under the control or influence of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).”

That assertion prompted the Kachin rebels to issue a statement on February 14 pointing out that the UNODC’s own map in its report showed that most opium growing areas in Kachin State were located not in areas controlled by the KIA, but a government-recognized Border Guard Force, allied with the Myanmar military.

TNI states that “there is presently no substantial opium cultivation” in rebel-held territory. The TNI has even criticized the KIA and Pat Jasan, a community-based, anti-drugs Kachin vigilante organization “for being overly repressive towards opium farmers and people who use drugs, rather than being in any way permissive.”

The TNI goes to state that the UNODC claims that the highest density of opium cultivation in northern Shan State is in “areas under the control or influence of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army,” a Kokang guerilla army that does not control any territory, while opium is actually being grown and traded in areas that are controlled by local militias backed by the Myanmar military.

After the Kachin rebels complained about the UNODC report, its Bangkok and Yangon offices issued a statement on February 27, which, however, did not address the main issue of wrongful identification of armed groups in the opium growing areas. It contained only a couple of satellite images of Kachin State and how those could be interpreted.

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