Burma and Thailand

Drug Troubles

Cross-border drug trade is increasing in Southeast Asia, creating regional strains among the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as ratcheting up tensions between Thailand and Burma.

The most glaring result is a rise in Thai drug addiction, particularly to amphetamines, known in Thai as yaa baa (madness medicine). A study by Thailand’s Assumption University says Thai teens between the ages of 16 and 20  are the biggest users of yaa baa, followed by people 21-25 years old, according to a May 4 report in Bangkok’s business-oriented Krungthep Thurakij Daily.

Irrawaddy, a magazine published by Burmese exiles in Bangkok, reports in its July issue that Thai military leaders believe that the Burmese government is involved in sending large quantities of drugs to its neighbor. “We don’t want to say it, as relations with Burma are very bad at the moment,” allowed Third Army Region Lieutenant General Wattanachai Chaimuenwong. “We don’t have hard evidence, but [we believe] that they are.” According to Wattanachai, there are about 50 yaa baa factories in Burma, along the 1,500-mile border with Thailand.

An investigation by the independent Bangkok Post says the Shan State Company, a Burmese government concession, is suspected of involvement in yaa baa production, with “at least two factories in [the town of] Ho Mong which have so far produced more than 3 million speed pills,” says an Aug. 15 report.

In an attempt to neutralize rebellion at its northern border, the Burmese government has been relocating large numbers of Wa minority people from the country’s northern border to the Thai-Burmese border.

Thai leaders have cause for concern. Inside Burma, the confrontation between the armed Wa and the rebel Shan State Army near the Thai border has triggered an influx of drugs into Thai territory, the Post reported Aug. 16. Both the Shan and Wa use drug profits to purchase arms.

However, at the July 24-25 meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers, Burmese Foreign Minister Win Aung told the independent Nation of Bangkok on July 24 that the government had cut opium-poppy production to 225,000 acres, down from 370,660 acres three years ago. He also said “his government had seized over 17 million yaa baa pills and 13,200 gallons of the precursor chemicals [needed for manufacture] this year.”
Burma has “been accused of closing an eye to mass production of amphetamines by the ethnic Wa at the border,” the pro-government Straits Times of Singapore reported on July 26, but concluded that a discussion between ASEAN members “is a major boost to drug-busting efforts, hampered in the past by a lack of cooperation.”