In the remote mountains of northern Shan state, Myanmar, close to the Chinese border, a rebel militia has been waging a hidden, protracted war since 2012 against an enemy that possesses no weapons, nor even an army.
This rugged area is well-known as a hotspot for the cultivation of opium poppies, the plant from
which morphine and heroin are synthesised; a practice that has been profitable for some producers,
but at a high social cost.
According to the UN DOC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime), the cultivation of opium
in Burma increased by 26% in 2013, marking the highest rise since the UNODC and the Myanmar government started their assessments in 2002.
Myanmar is the second largest opium-producing country in the world after Afghanistan; and
Shan State remains the centre of Myanmar’s opium activities, accounting for 92 per cent of the
country’s total cultivation.
The north of the state is the home of the Palaung ethnic minority, many of whom have cultivated and harvested the «sleepy plant» for years.
But the production and consumption of opium/heroin, while lucrative, has been devastating the
Palaung population. In some villages up to 80°/o of the men are addicts.
To fight the economic and social damages caused by opium to their people, the armed organisation
of the Palaung minority, the TNLA (T’ang National Liberation Army) declared a war on the plant in 2012. TNLA introduced prohibition laws in the Palaung community areas under their control, and today cultivating, costuming and selling drugs is strictly prohibited.
The TNLA claims to have 1,500 soldiers which this year were mainly put to destroy the poppy fields during the harvest season.
The commanders of this ragtag army has accused the Burmese Chinese minority of controlling the poppy fields and working in collusion with local militias and the Burmese army.
The goal of the guerrilla is to replace the poppy fields with other crops like corn and tea. But the challenge is daunting and the process has to be done gradually because it would interrupt the
mayor source of income for the peasantry in an area where the economy is dominated by opium.