MEKONG: situation has become worse since Naw Kham’s arrest


A top drug fighter from Naypyitaw recently challenged Beijing’s claim that “frequent occurrence of drug-related crimes on the Mekong River has been effectively contained,” as reported by Xinhua last May.

“In fact, the situation has become worse since Naw Kham’s arrest (on 24 April 2012),” said the official who asked his identity be withheld. “And Naw Kham was but a small link in the drug chain.”

Naw Kham, known as the Mekong godfather, who since 2006 was the boss over the cross-border drug trade in the Golden Triangle area, was executed in Kunming by lethal injection on 1 March. He was convicted on several charges including the killing of 13 Chinese sailors, on the Mekong on 5 October 2011.


A veteran businessman in eastern Shan State supported the drug warrior’s statement. “The only people who are taking a back seat nowadays are those without independent networks of their own,” he explained. “But to those who have their own networks Naw Kham, who was collecting protection on the fruits of their labor, was a great nuisance. The news of his capture was therefore most welcomed by these people.”

The drug fighter also scoffed at the much-vaunted joint 4-nation patrol on the Mekong. “Cooperation? Yes,” he told SHAN. “But joint operation? No.”

A ceremony to mark the opening of the office to control what Xinhua reported as “joint anti-drugs operations” on the Mekong was held in Xixuangbanna, Yunnan Province on 19 April. Myanmar and Thai police have arrested more than 1,100 suspects and seized more than 2.97 tons of drugs announced China’s Ministry of Public Security on 29 May.

According to Asia Sentinel, 30 May, critics have questioned whether the crackdown, beginning on 19 April and ending on 20 June, is just a convenient way for Beijing to project power into its strategic southern flank.


Why the deadline was moved to 2019

On 5 October 2012, coinciding with the first anniversary of the killings on the Mekong Lt.-Gen. Ko Ko, military appointed home minister and Chairman of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC), announced that Naypyitaw’s 15 year master plan (1999-2014) to eliminate drugs would be extended 5 years to 2019 “to maintain the momentum of the war on drugs.”

However, the said drug fighter explained the real reason rather succinctly. “What will people say when March 2014 comes, and drugs are still around?” he asked rhetorically. “We have to say something.”

The fact, he said, was that there were not enough funds to back the CCDAC’s 2-pronged missions: suppression, followed by crop substitution. “One year, we destroyed poppy fields in Panglawng,” he recalled, “and ended up begging for rice donations for the farmers and their families.”

This was later echoed by Jason Eligh, country manager for UN Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) who said, “People don’t grow poppies because they are bad people, but because they have no food to eat.”

Lt Gen Ko Ko, Myanmar Home Affairs Minister (Photo: AFP/Hla Hla Htay)
Lt Gen Ko Ko, Myanmar Home Affairs Minister (Photo: AFP/Hla Hla Htay)

Cooperation with Shan State Army

The delay in implementing the 28 October 2012 agreement, signed by the UNODC, government and the Restoration Council of Shan State/ Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) in Tachilek, was also due to failure to raise funds, according to the drug fighter.

“Please tell Jason (Eligh) he needs to do a better job on fund raising,” he quipped.

Burma’s UNODC chief, who held a press conference two days later, on 13 June, responded by saying he was confident the joint pilot project against drugs in Mongnai and Mongpan could be launched by the end of the monsoons. One CCDAC official also promised that the date for the implementation of the agreement could be “no later than another 5 months.”

Meeting between the Government, UNODC and RCSS at the City Hall, in Tachileik, On 27-28 October 2012 (Photo:
Meeting between the Government, UNODC and RCSS at the City Hall, in Tachileik, On 27-28 October 2012 (Photo:

Civilians entering the fray

The government issued a decree # 17/ 2011 on the formation of village committees to fight against drug abuse. When asked how successful it was, he said, “In areas where the government’s administrative power reaches, it has been quite successful. However, in other areas, we cannot make such a claim.”

When SHAN pointed out that some communities, frustrated by their family members who have squandered their resources, are successfully waging their own war on drugs in places like Mongpaw (in Muse township), Mongwi (in Namkham township), Mong Yen (in Namtu township) and Nawng Leng (in Tangyan township), he said they were remarkable exceptions.

On Wa

The official, while not against SHAN’s position that political settlement is key to the solution of the drug problem, insisted that administrative power must be extended to every square inch of the country to enable the government to enforce its laws. “The Wa, for example, is a problem,” he said. “We wanted our Department of General Administration to send its staff there, and the Wa said no. We then asked them whether we could assign a police force there without weapons, and again they said no.”

Other officials meanwhile say the government’s current policy is not to launch military offensives against the United Wa State Army (UWSA) but only to impose a siege on territories under its control.

Military part of the problem

Meanwhile the government’s anti drug campaign does not appear to be a unified one. The CCDAC, mostly made up of police officers, resent the military having the final say. “We know the (military-run) People’s Militia Forces (PMFs) are involved,” said one officer. “But without the green-light from the military, we can do nothing.”

When SHAN informed him of reports that the military has been giving laissez-faire to the PMFs to deal in drugs, the drug fighter who came from the military objected. “I don’t believe there ever has been a policy to support militias against rebels,” he said. “That is not to say I’m ignorant of reports of the involvement in the drug business of some PMFs. But knowing them is not enough. I need evidence to take action against them.”

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