English News Letter

February-2013

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COMMENTARY: Rampant Narcotic Drug-related Problems and Human Rights Violations

Problems related to narcotic drugs, e.g. opium and its derivatives, and various amphetamine-type synthetic drugs, both in using and trafficking of them, have long been widespread in Shan State, and so have human rights violations related to them

Both kinds of drugs have also been mainly produced in Shan State, especially in areas bordering China, Laos and Thailand, which appear to be the main reasons for their rampant use and trafficking in these areas and beyond, including neighbouring countries.

Although successive concerned authorities have claimed over the decades to have done their best to do away with the drug problems, they have never disappeared but continued to be one of the most troubling and difficult  issues to solve for the people of Shan State and beyond.

Many analysts say that because the drug problems in Shan State have their root causes in political problems, as long as the political issues are not completely solved, the drug issues will not go away, because all sides have been using the issues  for their causes, one way or the other.

Furthermore, many corrupt concerned authorities, taking advantage of the situation, have been making money out of the issues, instead of trying to address them. In the process, they have also violated the human rights of many people.

All the reports in this month’s issue are some evidence of how the widespread prevalence of drugs and corruption of concerned authorities have been badly affecting the lives of the ordinary people in Shan State.

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CONTENTS: Themes & Places of Violations reported in this issue

Themes: All the reports in this month’s issue are about various types of illegal drugs-related human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrestdetention, tortureintimidation, extortionforced labour, and a few incidents of other violations, committed mostly by members of the police force and the Burmese army in 2012 up to the beginning of 2013.

*  Places: Ta-Khi-Laek and Murng-Nai

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ACRONYMS:

LIB = Light Infantry Battalion (e.g. LIB246 = Light Infantry Battalion No. 246)

IB = Infantry Battalion

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DRUG RELATED PROBLEMS AND HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS COMMITTED BY POLICE IN TA-KHI-LAEK

Ta-Khi-Laek, or Tachilek as it is known in Burmese, is a border town in Shan State, opposite Mae Sai border town in Thailand. The town is well known among the people in the region for its rampant drug abuses and many other illegal activities.

Drug abuses and trafficking are rampant apparently because of the involvement of  corrupt government officials, especially the police, to make money for themselves, rather than try to eradicate drugs as they claim to be doing.

According to  local people, the police, even those who are said to be directly responsible for drug eradication, would do something only if they see they could make some money from the issues. Otherwise, they would pay virtually no attention to them.

For instance, the police  arrest drug users only if they think they could get some money, not to control them or rehabilitate them, which they do not think is worth their time and trouble. That is why they do not pay much attention when parents of drug addicts try to get their help to control their delinquent children.

The following are some such instances:


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ARBITRARY ARREST AND DETENTION OF SUSPECTED DRUG USERS, EXCESSIVE EXTORTION OF MONEY, IN TA-KHI-LAEK

Since some time ago up to the present in 2013, member of the police force in Ta-Khi-Laek township, claiming to be responsible for drug eradication, have been arbitrarily detaining and extorting large amounts of money from especially young people they suspected of illegally using drugs.

Members of the police force who claimed to be responsible for drug eradication in Ta-Khi-Laek township often patrolled different areas of the township during late hours of the night and arrested young people who were out at the time, and brought them to the township police station.

Those young people would then be told that they were being suspected of using certain kinds of narcotic drugs, e.g., amphetamine-type drugs, marijuana, heroin, etc., and asked that their urine be tested. Those who refused to let their urine tested were then outrightly accused of being actual drug addicts and threatened with 10 years jail term, unless they paid a fine of 200,000 Thai baht.

Those who agreed to the urine test would then be asked to pay a fine of 40,000 Thai baht in advance, and told that if they passed the test, they would be freed immediately. If their urine showed colour and the test failed, they might still have to serve probably the same 10-year jail term.

Those who agreed but failed to pay the 40,000 baht for the urine test would have to serve 4 years in jail, and their urine would not be tested. It did not matter whether they were actually drug users or not, they were still be imprisoned for failing to pay the fine.

Those whose parents could afford to immediately pay for the urine test, however, were kept in their custody for only 2-3 days and released by the police authorities, who also said that the urine test was not necessary any more.

Those who could not afford to pay continued to be detained, but not as long as they had been threatened. Some were released only after about 3 months, although some were detained up to 6 months and even more than a year in a few cases. That was partly due to the lack of sufficient space for long-term detention at the police station.

According to former prisoners who had been detained in this way, there was only a small jail meant for temporary or short-term detention at the police station and there were many prisoners. The jail was overcrowded and it was difficult even to get enough drinking water, and there was only one toilet for all the prisoners.

These prisoners were not told why exactly they were being detained and were not sent to court or put on trial until they were released. Living in that small, crowded jail was so uncomfortable that some of them even asked to be sent to the main prison where there was more space, but were repeatedly turned down.

Zaai Leng (m), aged 19, of Taw Kaw village in Hawng Lerk village tract in Ta-Khi-Laek township, was one of the prisoners who had been detained for 3 months, without knowing his charge, and has been recently released, related his experience to SHRF in January 2013.

“One night, I was visiting a friend’s house in San Saai Tai, one of Ta-Khi-Laek town quarters, with 2 other friends when the police suddenly came and arrested our host, Zaai Kaeng, and took him to the township police station.”

“The police told me and the other friends, Zaai Mint and Zaai Sa, to also go with him to the police station, since all of us were virtually of the same age. We explained that we were only visiting, but they said it was only for a short while, promising to release 3 of us after asking only a few questions. So we all quietly went along.”

However, Zaai Leng said that as soon as they arrived at the police station, they were immediately locked up without any question being asked. When they asked why they were detained, the policemen there said that the officer-in-charge was not yet available and went away, leaving all of them locked up in the jail.

Zaai Leng told SHRF that he did not even smoke tobacco, let alone other stronger types of drugs. Although he offered his urine to be tested, the police did not do so because he could not pay the demanded fees of 40,000 Thai baht and they continued to detain him for 3 months before releasing him.

“It was very unfair and unjust. To demand such amount of money just for a urine test was sheer extortion”, he said. “How could an unemployed young guy who still has to depend on his parents like me get that much money, and there are still a lot of young guys like me in that jail”.

“Imagine how difficult it was for us, being detained without knowing exactly for what reason and for how long. Our requests, to put us on trial or to send us to other bigger prison buildings, were repeatedly denied. They just detained us as long as they wanted and then released us when they wanted.”

“I am saying all this because I want to see justice. I want the authorities to do it justly and according to the law. If possible, I would like people from BBC, VOA and DVB to come and find out the truth and report it to those who could help stop these practices of corruption and injustice”, Zaai Leng finally added.

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ARBITRARY ARREST, DETENTION AND TORTURE OF DRUG SUSPECT ON FALSE ALLEGATION, IN TA-KHI-LAEK

From September up to at least mid October 2012 when this report was received, a restaurant owner in Ta-Khi-Laek town was falsely accused of dealing in illegal drugs and arrested, detained and tortured by the police in Ta-Khi-Laek township.

On 28 September 2012, a restaurant owner in San Saai quarter in Ta-Khi-Laek town, Zaai Ping (not his real name), was falsely accused of having illegal drugs in his possession and arrested, detained and tortured by the anti-drugs police force in Ta-Khi-Laek township.

In reality, the drugs were not found on Zaai Ping,  but on the body of another man who happened to be in the restaurant at the time the police came and searched the place. The police, however, accused him of having something to do with the drugs and took Zaai Ping into their custody.

The drugs were in fact found in the shirt pocket of a Chinese man known as Aa Koi. Aa Koi was said to have come from China some time ago and was working as a wage labourer in Ta-Khi-Laek town as a means of livelihood. He was said to be a drug addict and was rumoured to be often used by the police to sell the drugs they seized from other quarters.

On the day when a group of anti-drugs police, led by Lt. Thein Myint, came with a warrant to search the restaurant, Aa Koi was hired by Saai Ping to do some menial work in the shop. When the police found no illegal drugs after searching the restaurant, they called Aa Koi and searched him, and found 12 tablets of ‘Ya Ba’ or metamphetamine in his shirt pocket.

When all the police turned to Zaai Ping to ask questions about it, Aa Koi quickly and quietly slipped out of the shop and fled. Since then up to the time of this report, Aa Koi had not shown up at places where he used to work and no one knew where he had gone.

When they could not find Aa Koi to ask questions, police officer Thein Myint then turned to Zaai Ping again and accused him of being the original owner of the drugs and having given them to Aa Koi. Although Zaai Ping denied the charge, he was immediately arrested and detained at the township police station.

He was said to be repeatedly interrogated, beaten and tortured by the police in order to extract a confession. Zaai Ping’s relatives and their community leaders shortly after went to the police station to testify that he was innocent and tried to bail him out, but to no avail.

On 17 October 2012, when this report was received, Zaai Ping was still in the police custody. Many Ta-Khi-Laek townspeople believed Zaai Ping was framed by police officer Thein Myint for some reasons that had antagonized him.

It was said that some time ago Thein Myint was angry with another man, Zaai Man (not his real name), who refused to comply with his demand of extortion money. Thein Myint tried to get a search warrant from the township court to search Zaai Man’s house in Me Khaao, one of the town quarters. However, for some reasons, the court refused to issue the warrant, and Zaai Man was saved from the trouble.

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CORRUPT POLICE OFFICIALS ENCOURAGE GAMBLING AND SECRETLY SELL DRUGS, SPOILING YOUNG PEOPLE, IN TA-KHI-LAEK

During 2012, at least up to mid-year when this report was received, many video game shops were opened by many people all over Ta-Khi-Laek township with the encouragement and permission of the police, to be used for gambling and as venues for secretly selling narcotic drugs.

Because of that, many young people in Ta-Khi-Laek township have become addicted not only to playing games but also to various kinds of drugs, mostly amphetamine types. These young people liked to play games all night and sleep during the day, with no will to work and have become great problems for their parents.

The numbers of drug addicts have also increased among the youth due to easy availability of the drugs. It was said that when large amounts of drugs were seized, the police only officially  registered 2/3 of the amounts and secretly kept 1/3 for themselves. Small amounts of drugs seized were usually not registered or reported at all.

These drugs were then secretly sold by the police, using agents, at various venues, e.g. in the streets of the town and villages, and the said game shops, etc.. Together with the numbers of game and drug addicts, the numbers of crimes such as stealing and robbing have also increased.

To be able to open a game shop, the owner had to pay a secret tax of 30,000 Thai baht to the police every month, and also help them sell their drugs. Those who failed to comply with these requirements were simply ordered to be shut down immediately.

Many such game shops, where young people could gamble and buy drugs, can be seen not only in the town quarters, but also in all the village tracts in the township, and several of them in each village tract. All these have caused rampant delinquency in the township.

“We are facing uncontrollable delinquency and cannot turn to anyone for help. The police got the money; the parents got  heartbroken; and the youth lost their future.  What can we do?” complained a village elder to SHRF in Hawng Lerk village tract in Ta-Khi-Laek township.

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PARENTS OF DRUG ADDICTS TURN TO CEASEFIRE GROUP FOR HELP, IN TA-KHI-LAEK

During mid and late 2012, after a liaison office has been set up by a Shan ceasefire group in Ta-Khi-Laektownship, many parents of drug addicts have approached them to ask for their help in trying to solve the problems of drug addiction among the young people.

For many years up to the present, because of easy availability of narcotic drugs, many young people in Ta-Khi-Laek, both married and bachelors, have become drug addicts and have been causing a lot of problems to their families and community in which they live.

They approached the ceasefire group to see if they could be of help in some ways to solve the problems, because the police and other administrative departments did not pay attention to the issue even after they informed them from time to time, explained one of the parents from Pung Thun town quarter.

In fact, it was the police themselves who were selling and spreading the drugs. They used various kinds of agents to secretly sell the drugs, including some of the drug addicts. “So we don’t have anyone to ask for help, when those who are supposed to stop the drugs are spreading them”, added many other parents.

The other parents from San Saai town quarter also said that the video game shops also served to spread the drugs, but the police were protecting them because they were getting a lot of money from them. Even the political parties did not seem to be able to do anything even though they actually knew about it. “It has been like this for many years now,” they said.

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DRUG RELATED ABUSES IN OTHER TOWNSHIPS

During 2012, SHRF also received reports about Burmese military patrols, on their missions to collect opium taxes, abusing rural communities in many areas.

Police in some areas also encouraged people to sell illegal drugs and extorted money, with the consent of the military.

The following are some such instances that took place in Murng-Nai township.

VILLAGERS FORCED TO PROVIDE PIG AND CHICKENS, UNPAID GUIDES, AND  THREATENED, IN MURNG-NAI

In November 2012, villagers of Kawng Yaao village in Naa Khaan village tract in Murng-Nai township were forced to provide pig, chickens and unpaid guides by the Burmese army troops from IB248 who were on patrol to collect opium taxes in the area, and who also threatened the villagers.

On 11 November 2012, a patrol of about 37 Burmese army troops from IB248 came to Kawng Yaao village in Naa Khaan village tract in Murng-Nai township and stopped to spend the night in the village, during which they forced the villagers to provide them with a pig and some chickens.

After having taken a pig, weighing about 10 viss (1 viss = 1.6 kg), and 5 chickens, weighing about 4 viss, from the villagers without paying for them, the troops said that they did it only because their rations had almost run out, and warned the villagers not tell people from other villages about it.

“If our superiors know about this, we may be punished. If we are punished because of you spreading the news about this, we will surely get even with you when we come again next time. So be careful not to let any one outside your village know about it”, the Burmese troops threatened.

The next morning, on 12 November 2012, when they left the village, the Burmese troops forced 2 Kawng Yaao villagers to be their guides and led them to the area of Nawng Leng and Nawng Saai villages where  there were said to be many opium farms.

The Burmese troops released the 2 forced unpaid guides only after 3 days of patrolling and collecting taxes from the opium farms in the said area. The cultivators were villagers from different areas in the township who had come to grow opium on small plots of land by paying protection fees or taxes to the Burmese military.

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VILLAGERS ENCOURAGED TO SELL DRUGS, MONEY EXTORTED, THREATENED WITH ARREST, IN MURNG-NAI

For many years, at least up to the time when this report was received in early 2012, police in Kaeng Tawng sub-township in Murng-Nai township had been permitting and encouraging some people to sell illegal drugs and extorted money from them, threatening to put them in jail if they did not comply.

It was an open secret among the local people that the police, with the approval of the Burmese military, often permitted, and even encouraged, some ignorant and greedy people, who would do virtually anything to get big easy money, to sell illegal drugs, e.g. opium and other types of synthetic drugs related to amphetamine.

Occasionally, the police extorted large amounts of money from these people, threatening them with imprisonment if they refused to comply, and actually arrested those who really failed to do so. One such incident that took place in early 2012 was recorded by SHRF in mid 2012.

On 27 February 2012, a police officer, Sgt. Kyaw Zan, from the police station at Paang Khaw village in No. 2 quarter, came to the house of Naang Khin (not her real name), aged 37, at Wan Mai Sen Taw village in No. 4 quarter, which was a relocation site from 1996 up until a few years ago.

At that time, Sgt. Kyaw Zan said to Naang Khin that she had been permitted to sell drugs for 2-3 years by then and must have saved up a lot of money, and extorted 2,500,000 kyat of money from her. He told her that she would be permitted to continue to sell drugs if she complied with his demand, but would be arrested and put in jail if she refused.

As was secretly known by many people in the township, the extorted money was usually divided roughly into 3 portions. The police kept one portion for themselves. Each of the other 2 portions went to the sub-township administration chief and the chief of the military training centre in the township.

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