Thai authorities are anticipating a massive influx of methamphetamines this month from neighbouring Myanmar, where insurgent groups are upping drug production to finance the purchase of new weaponry, media reports said Wednesday. Thai anti-narcotics police seized more than 4 million methamphetamine pills last month in raids on traffickers in what Thai authorities described as “the tip of the iceberg,” the Bangkok Post reported.
Most of the illegal drugs coming out of Myanmar, also known as Burma, are produced by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) and other ethnic minority groups that control territory in Shan State in the north-east, according to the United Nations and other international agencies.
“We have obtained information that ethnic minority groups inside Burma are speeding up their drugs production so they can earn more money to buy new weapons to fight Burmese soldiers,” Permpong Chaovalit, deputy director general of Thailand’s Office of Narcotic Control Board, told the Bangkok Post.
The Wa, Kachin Independence Organisation, Shan State Army and Karen National Union are some of the minority groups in north-eastern Myanmar who have refused to cooperate with Myanmar’s ruling military junta in disbanding their armies to pave the way for a general election planned this year.
The junta wants the groups to hand over their weapons and turn themselves into “Border Guard Forces” under the military’s control prior to the polls, which the minority groups are invited to contest via political parties.
The UWSA, which claims to have 30,000 soldiers and is accused of being the region’s main producer of methamphetamines, poses a serious threat to the Myanmar military should the rebels attempt to force the government to disband their army, observers said.
The UWSA has been purchasing weapons from China in anticipation of a showdown with the junta, according to reports from China. For instance, it recently bought 17 armoured personnel carriers, sources said.
To finance the arms buildup, the UWSA and other groups are upping their production of methamphetamines, the Shan State’s main export item with Thailand the main market, Office of Narcotic Control Board sources told the Bangkok Post.
Drug producers in Shan State, formerly the world’s leading producer and exporter of heroin, switched to methamphetamines in the early 1990s because the synthetic drug proved easier to produce, more profitable and less likely to attract the attention of Western democracies as the supply was mainly funnelled to neighbouring Thailand and South-East Asian countries.