Opium – The War On Drugs In China

In the remote mountains of Myanmar’s Shan state, a rebel militia near the Chinese border has since 2012 been waging a hidden war against an enemy that possesses no weapons or army.

The enemy? Opium poppies, the plant from which morphine and heroin are synthesised. This rugged area is well-known as a hotspot for the cultivation of poppies. The practise is profitable for some producers, but comes at a high social cost.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the cultivation of opium in Myanmar increased by 26 percent in 2013, the biggest rise since assessments began in 2002.

Myanmar is the second-largest opium-producing country in the world after Afghanistan, and Shan State accounts for 92 percent of the country’s total cultivation.

The northern part of Shan state is home to the Palaung ethnic group, many of whom have cultivated and harvested the “sleepy plant” for years. But while lucrative, the drug has been devastating the Palaung population. In some villages, more than half of the men are said to be addicts.

In response, the Tang National Liberation Army (TNLA) – an armed Palaung group – declared a war on the drug in 2012. The TNLA introduced prohibition laws in Palaung areas under their control, and today cultivating and selling drugs is strictly prohibited.

The TNLA claims to have 1,500 soldiers, who this year were ordered to destroy poppy fields during the harvest season. The commanders have accused the area’s ethnic Chinese minority of cultivating poppy fields and working in collusion with local militias and Myanmar’s army.

The TNLA’s goal is to replace the poppy fields with other crops, like corn and tea. But the process has to be carried out gradually, because poppies are a major source of income for the peasants.

An officer with the Tang National Liberation Army (TNLA) holds a bunch of poppy flowers. Fifteen soldiers under his command destroyed a field of poppy plants in 40 minutes.
When the TNLA seizes a large quantity of opium, it often burns it in public to draw attention to its war on drugs.
A TNLA commander prepares the distribution of new AK-47 assault rifles at a base camp.
The TNLA started a drug eradication campaign in 2012, destroying opium fields and punishing drug addicts and traffickers. Above, a TNLA soldier naps in his hut.
TNLA soldiers relax by watching a movie at a base camp. The group’s strategy is based on mobility, with no permanent headquarters and small groups of soldiers constantly on the move.
Tar Khoure Nyan, a high-ranking TNLA officer, speaks with a villager in northern Shan state.
TNLA soldiers leave the forest after destroying a poppy field. Poppy leaves, which are innocuous, were collected to be used in a soup.
The milky fluid seeping out from cuts in the unripe poppy is scraped off and air-dried to produce opium.
Aikun, a 29-year-old Palaung man, smokes an opium pipe in his bamboo hut. By smoking, he risks imprisonment by the TNLA.
Two young Palaung villagers who were caught smoking methamphetamine by the TNLA. They will spend two weeks inside a rough wooden cell.
Opium and heroin are in high demand, are very profitable to produce and require relatively little space to grow.
TNLA has signed a draft agreement with other ethnic armed groups participating in a nationwide ceasefire.
TNLA deputy commander-in-chief Tar Khu Lan gives a speech to encourage his soldiers.
Vincenzo Floramo/Al Jazeera


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