In eastern Myanmar, a new production center for synthetic drugs has been established. Thailand has subsequently declared a new drug war, but with little chance of success.

Eager monks, who make their way from house to house with stainless steel bowls and collect alms, are looked for in vain in the “Wat Kathu” temple on the Thai island of Phuket A bald clergyman sits in front of the prayer house with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth Amulets take up much more space than the ancient temple abbot Khowit, who blesses Chinese tourist groups every half hour.

The clergy obviously do not take piety right here. And yet monk “Dang” has fallen from the clouds when last month instead of a tourist bus the Thai drug police stopped in the parking lot of “Wat Kathu”: “All monks of the temple had to urinate to urine test Methamphetamine use tested. ” The drug offenders had to hand in their saffron robes on the spot, were expelled from the Buddhist community.

Thailand Wat Kathu Temple in Phuket (DW / Julian Küng)

Secret drug use behind Buddhist temple walls in Phuket

Stop the flood of drugs

“You must have secretly consumed the drugs, we did not notice anything,” says monk “Dang,” who is responsible for administrative matters in the temple. The seven renegade monks were arrested and have to participate in a government rehabilitation program with other drug delinquents. They are not alone in the kingdom: 70 percent of prison inmates in Thailand are drug addicts or criminals. At least 300,000 Thais are currently in one of the numerous rehabilitation centers. 240,000 of them are under the age of 24, according to the report of the National Narcotic Drug Control Agency ONCB.

Reason enough for the Thai authorities to proclaim a new “war on drugs”. “The military must take strict measures to stop the flood of drugs,” Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said in late October as a slogan. Since then, commandos of the military and police have been operating throughout the kingdom, hunting traders and consumers alike. Over 120,000 drug offenders were arrested in November alone.

Myanmar’s Shan State offers ideal conditions for chrystal meth production: In so-called “special regions”, armed organizations such as UWSA and NDAA have the say

Success stories of doubtful value

Memories of the 2003 “war on drugs” initiated by ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra come to life. This had claimed more than 2,500 lives. Thaksin then instructed the drug investigators with slogans such as “Suspects should only go two ways, either to the cemeteries of the temples or behind bars,” so gave the forces an unofficial license to kill. A massive arbitrariness was the result. According to human rights organizations, several hundred people have been wrongfully accused of drug trafficking.

The continuation of the drug war has also claimed several dozen casualties. No cartel bosses were killed, but mostly simple couriers from mountain villages in eastern Myanmar. The Thai authorities are much more likely to talk about the huge quantities of drugs seized: “In the month of November alone, we have secured goods worth 4.5 billion baht (121 million euros),” the military proudly announces.

The tons of seizures are only a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous waves of synthetic drugs that come into the Kingdom on a daily basis. “We will not be able to report exact figures until February, but the quantities of synthetic narcotic drugs currently flooding Southeast Asia are many times bigger than last year’s record numbers,” said Inshik Sim of United Nations Department of Drugs Unit UNODC. Highly estimated, the drug investigators confiscate just ten percent of total production. “The enormous amounts go back to the massively increased drug production in the Golden Triangle,” Sim continues. The “Golden Triangle”, a virtually lawless region in the border area of ​​Myanmar, China, Thailand and Laos,

Mae Sai / Tachileik border crossing Myanmar / Thailand (DW / Julian Küng)

Drug investigation in Mae Sai on the border of Thailand to Myanmar

Cloaked drug production in eastern Myanmar

“Hey!” A voice yells behind the bamboo fence as the DW reporter wants to cross the mountain border to the so-called “Special Region 4” in the Shan state in eastern Myanmar. The mountainous terrain is widely enclosed with wooden boards. “Tscheng Tung, Tscheng Tung,” the border official mumbled, nervously chewing on a betel nut. Behind him, a soldier grabs his assault rifle by the handle, makes clear to the reporter that he should hurry back to the city of Kengtung.

In the back of the soldiers is the special zone 4, with picture-beautiful mountain areas and lush green jungle forests and the casino city of Mong La. But also the home of rival rebel groups, drug cartels and the dominant National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA), a rebel group that emerged from the Communist Party of Burma. The NDAA is allied with the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a 20,000-strong Wa militia group that heads the adjoining Special Region 2 and has alliances with the Burmese military.

Keng Tung, Shan State of Myanmar, Golden Triangle (DW / Julian Küng)

Transporter caravan of the Burmese military on its way to the “Special Region 4”, which is closed to foreigners.

Neighbor China does not cause any problems – on the contrary

At the same time, the rulers in the eastern Shan state maintain excellent relations with their powerful neighbor China. Here Chinese is spoken instead of Burmese, paid with Chinese yuan, and telephoned over the Chinese telephone network. Even the ingredients, the chemical precursors for drug production, which takes place mostly in small jungle tent laboratories, are delivered from the Middle Kingdom, apparently without any problems in border management.

Back in Kengtung, the Burmese Immigration Bureau welcomes DW and explains: “Special Zone 4 is a powder keg right now, conflicts between militant groups around drug production are omnipresent, so we are not letting foreign visitors in. Many regions are also closed to the local population”, the official explains.

Of course, the fact that the army, with allied militias and rebel groups in Special Zone 4, all benefit very well from the drug production, is of course not mentioned separately. As the ICG writes in a recent report  , such enclaves, under the “full territorial control of armed groups that have made permanent truces with the military of Myanmar,” provide ideal conditions for the undisturbed production of Chrystal Meth on an industrial scale.

China Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar & Xi Jinping, President (picture-alliance / Photoshot / Rao Aimin)

Chinese infrastructure projects in Myanmar (here welcomed Xi Jinping Myanmar’s head of government Aung San Suu Kyi) will also facilitate illegal business, according to experts

Ideal conditions for the drug industry

“Good infrastructure, easy access to the necessary chemicals from China, safe production facilities under the protection of pro-government militias, as well as enclaves under the control of rebels have made the Shan state a major source of high quality Chrystal Meth,” states the ICG report. 

And the upswing of the drug industry in the Shan state will not break. As part of the newly-sanctioned multi-billion dollar project “China Myanmar Economic Corridor” (CMEC), roads will soon be redeveloped and modern high-speed railways inaugurated to better connect the eastern border with China with western Myanmar. This also improves the conditions for illegal business. It looks good for the future of Shan-State as the global leader in the production of synthetic drugs.

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