The Struggle of the Kachin People in Myanmar
A tough journey towards political settlement
- Part 2 -

Puyam Nongdrei *

Burma Myanmar Flag

Women Trafficking and Brides for Sale

The deterioration in political, economic and social situation in Kachin State has led to many Kachins leaving their homeland for destinations within Myanmar and abroad to seek for a better living and to feed the families. There are numerous cases of illegal migration across the border for work, sex trade and drug trafficking leading to spread of HIV/AIDS and other contagious diseases and transnational crimes. Trafficking of Myanmar women as brides for Chinese men is another factor of rising cases of trafficking in women and children.

China and Myanmar are cooperating along with other neighbouring countries to control and check the transnational crimes including human trafficking. Bilateral and multilateral cooperation on human trafficking control is implemented under the GMS and China-ASEAN cooperation against transnational crimes. The first GMS Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT) meeting was held in Yangon, Myanmar in October 2004.

Myanmar joined in March 2004, the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and Protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons especially women. Myanmar established a national anti-trafficking unit in June 2004. It was followed by the passing of the "Law on Prevention of Trafficking in Persons" on 13 September 2005 and has been cooperating with UNODC, UN Inter Agency Project (UNIAP), China, Thailand etc. Myanmar has drafted a five year National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons (2007-2011) under the Central Committee for Prevention of Trafficking in Persons.

By January 2006, local anti-trafficking task forces were formed at strategic locations to strengthen the national campaign. The framework for cooperation signed between China and Myanmar in October 2006 in Kunming includes provisions for safe and timely repatriation. A border liaison office (BLO) was opened in Ruili (China) and Muse (Myanmar) on 12 July 2007 to facilitate the repatriation of trafficking victims and to prosecute traffickers. Other new BLOs in Zhangfeng (China) and Lashio (Myanmar) were established in November 2008.

There is a close link between tourism and trafficking in women and children for sexual exploitation. "Driven Away: Trafficking of Kachin women on the China-Burma border" (2005) is a report published by the Kachin Women's Association Thailand (KWAT), which documented many stories of many young Kachin women and girls who had disappeared, who had been sold to China as wives, and tricked into prostitution. "Eastward Bound" is another report on migration and trafficking of Kachin women published by the KWAT.

Many of these trafficked women are sold as wives to Chinese men, where because of One Child policy there is a skewed sex ratio. Many of them were trafficked into the sex industry in Chinese provinces particularly in Yunnan province. Some are being exploited as illegal labourers in the neighbouring countries. Conflict and exploitation of resources without giving much benefit to the local people are two major reasons behind large scale migration and trafficking of Kachin women.

War Against Drugs

The opium season in Kachin state lasts from October to March making double cropping in a year, unlike in Shan state where only one crop per year is cultivated. The situation is worsening despite Myanmar's stated goal of drug free state by 2015. Taking into account the drug menace, the KIO declared war against drugs in a statement released on 5 October 2010. The Kachin National Organisation's (KNO) collaborative statement on anti drug proliferation of KIO's 5th October, 2010 announcement dated 27th October 2010 stated (1 & 4 only):

1. The progress of civilization in every society rests on the shoulders of its youth. Every generation faces the challenge and responsibility of fulfilling personal development in the wisdom and virtue of physical well being, intellectual knowledge, moral character, friendship forming, and material wealth building. These traits and characteristics are learned, developed, acquired and inherited.

4. The SPDC Military government is in the business of promoting drug proliferation in order to wage a silent war against us in the destruction of our youth. The aim is to impede the coming generation from assuming leadership role for its people and in way the military will continue to rule permanently.

In the history of KIO, collection of opium tax started in 1961 until its Chairman Maran Brang Seng announced an "Opium Free Kachin State" in 1990. This announcement heavily prohibited opium cultivation, producing and smuggling in Kachin state and its controlled areas in Northern Shan state. In 1964, the KIO initiated a ban on narcotic drugs but it failed as fighting with Myanmar junta took precedence.

Opium cultivation and heroin smuggling dropped significantly during the KIO's war against drugs in Kachin state between 1990 and 1994. After 1994 ceasefire, drug addictions among Kachin youth have become a major social problem as all types of drugs can be obtained easily at schools and universities as well as in the cities and villages. To save the youths, the KIO launched the development programme called "Education and Economy Development for Youth" in 2004.

The KIO enacted laws requiring the complete eradication of narcotic drugs in Kachin state and northern Shan state areas on April 15, 1991. From 2002-2004, the KIO launched joint action with Myanmar junta in China-Myanmar border areas to eradicate opium and other drugs. The pressure from China to control drugs in northern Myanmar was also played an important role.

The former NDA-K led by Zahkung Ting Ying was transformed into three battalions of the BGF in November 2009. The estimated 20,000 acres of poppy cultivated land in the BGF-controlled areas of Sadung and the areas between Kambaiti and Pangwa towns speaks something contradictory to Myanmar's drugs eradication campaign. It has been alleged that poppy fields have been turned into profitable source of tax collection for the military and anti-narcotic personnel.

On 8 October 2011, the Myanmar government claimed to have seized a large quantity of methamphetamine and other drug paraphernalia during fighting with KIA. It was dismissed by critics and KIO as propaganda. Interestingly, Bertil Lintner, questioned why the accusations of KIA's involvement in the drugs trade had not surfaced during the 17-year long ceasefire with the junta, which ended in June 2011. He told the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) that Naypyitaw uses the drugs as a political tool, and once ceasefires breakdown, all these groups are involved with narcotics. Lintner defended KIA saying that "to my knowledge they (KIA) have never been involved in the drugs trade".

There is increase in poppy cultivation and consumption in Kachin state since 1994. One of the major sources of high demand is from the workers in gold, jade and logging companies. Earlier, in most of the cases, the cultivators have to pay tax to the Myanmar junta, KIO and the NDA-K. The large tract of poppy fields in Sadung areas bordering China are owned by Chinese businessmen with fertilizers and modern agri-technologies being used.

A majority of the farmers rely on poppy cultivation to meet their needs amidst political uncertainties. The UNODC reported an increase in opium cultivation in Kachin and Shan states. In 2011, the total area under opium cultivation was estimated at 43,600 ha, recording an increase of 14 percent compared to 38,100 ha in 2010. The increase in cultivation area started slowly in 2007 after six years of decline from 2001 to 2006, according to the report.

KIO destroyed opium poppy fields in five townships namely Danai, Hpakant, Waingmaw, Putao and Machyangbaw in March 2012. The highest area under poppy cultivation is found in Sudung in Waingmaw Township, an area controlled by the New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) which is now transformed into the Border Guard Force (BGF). To check this menace, since October 2012, KIO has imposed heavy fines for foreign drug convicts which will check the involvement of Chinese businessmen in poppy cultivation and drug trade across the border.

Break Down of Cease-fire

The difference between the KIO and SPDC spilled open in April 2009 when the ceasefire groups were ordered to transform into Border Guard Forces (BGF) prior to the election in November 2010. The outbreak of military offensive took place in June 2011 breaking a 17 year-old cease-fire agreement. It is reported that about 7000 to 10,000 Kachin refugees are scattered around 12 or more makeshift camps in Southwest China. Thousands of Kachins have fled to Yunnan as refugees or are internally displaced making many of them vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation.

The newly elected President Thein Sein who is also the Chairman of the Central Committee for Progress of Border Areas and National Races, called for taking measures to develop the border regions. During his visit to China in May 2011, two sides stressed to cooperate for stability and peace in the border areas and agreed to work together for smooth and safe completion of the projects being implemented along the border.

The clash has led to destruction of bridges, railway and attacks on Chinese-invested hydro power project sites in the northern Myanmar. The beginning of the open armed hostility near the Tarpein hydro project, which is a Chinese-funded project, is pregnant with meanings. Another major Chinese project causing much disturbance to the people of Myanmar is the dual pipelines project which is due to be completed in 2013.

China has expressed strong concern about the fighting in Kachin state bordering Yunnan province that has created instability along the border besides refugee inflow into Yunnan. China's exploitation of natural resources including hydro power projects in Kachin state and the KIA's rejection of the border guard transformation proposal have widened the gap between the Kachin group and Myanmar government. Though widespread exploitation of forest, mineral resources and hydropower potential of the Kachin state has been cited as one of the tension areas, there are other political and external factors too.

KIA reportedly stopped quarrying on the east bank of the Malikha River on 16 April and occupied Lahsa hydro power site on 5 May and disturbed the Tarpein project detaining Myanmar soldiers on 8 June 2011. As a result of clash, altogether 215 Chinese workers and staffs left Myanmar from 9 to 14 June.

The new Myanmar government led by Thein Sein sent an open letter dated 8 August 2011 calling on the ethnic armed groups especially the Kachin group to stop violence. The new government stepped up reconciliation process as Thein Sein met Aung San Suu Kyi for the first time on August 19, 2011 and also outlined some new policies dealing with economy, ethnic armed conflicts and dissidents staying in and out of the country.

In the meantime, the KIO sent an open letter to the Chinese government calling for shelving the Myitsone project and requested China for mediation. In January 2012, a joint statement was issued by the two conflicting parties at the end of a two-day talk at central level in Ruili in Yunnan Province. It was a follow-up of the preliminary one at state level in Ruili on November 29, 2011. In order to facilitate the talks, President Thein ordered for a unilateral ceasefire on December 10, 2011 except for self-defence. But fighting continued despite the call for ceasefire.

The end of the dual-track policy toward Myanmar under Mao Zedong's leadership gave major boost to China-Myanmar relations since the late 1980s. However, the ethnic armed insurgency and drug warlords continue to disturb and threaten peace and stability along the border areas. The Chinese military assistance to Myanmar has strengthened the hold of Naypyitaw over a large part of these ethnic minority areas.

Expansion and further deepening of economic and trade relations between the two countries call for peace and stability in the region especially in the border areas. China's 'western development' campaign and 'bridgehead strategy' of Yunnan are pushing Myanmar to strengthen security relations with China and reconciliation process at home. Strategic roads, railways and port projects connecting Yunnan and the Indian Ocean through Myanmar and the oil and gas pipelines are clear signs of China's long term interests in the region.

China demands security of the projects sites involving Chinese companies and as a result Myanmar has been enhancing militarisation of the ethnic minority areas along the border. KIA faces increasing presence of Myanmar forces in its areas of control due to these projects and therefore, wants to stop the Chinese projects. The attacks on various Chinese-invested projects in northern Myanmar show that Chinese economic and business interests need protection.

The rapid expansion in bilateral economic and trade relations is reflected in the number of agreements and understanding reached between the two sides during the high-level visits from both sides. A total of 36 MoUs were signed during Vice President Xi Jinping (2009), Wen Jiabao (2010) and Jia Qinglin (2011)'s visit to Myanmar. China is the largest trade partner of Myanmar and the total trade volume has reached $5.3 billion in 2010-2011 and also the largest foreign investor investing $15.8 billion in 72 projects.

The China Power Investment Group (CPI) signed an agreement with the concerned Myanmar Ministry in May 2007 for the implementation of seven large dams along the Ayeyawaddy, Mali, and N'Mai Rivers in Kachin state. Myitsone project under construction at the confluence of the Mali and N'Mai Rivers is the largest of the seven dams while the six other projects are Chibwe, Chibwe Nge, Pashe, Lakin, Phizaw, Khaunglanphu, and Laiza. Many of these projects on completion will export clean energy to China. But these projects have caused much resentment to the ethnic minorities along the border in particular and the people of Myanmar in general.

to be continued...

* Puyam Nongdrei wrote this article for
The writer can be contacted at nongdreijing(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on June 25, 2013.

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