Controversial anti-drug campaigners Pat Ja San led a march and prayer service in Myitkyina this week, marking the organization’s third-annual anti-drug day.
Thousands of people from Myitkyina and Waingmaw church groups joined with residents of internally displaced persons camps in a march to Manau Park on April 25. The anti-drug demonstrators carried placards with slogans like, “We Don’t Want Drugs” and, “We Need to Protect Youth from Drug Threats”.
Around 8:30am the crowd held a prayer service at Manau Park, followed by personal testimonies from people who quit drugs, songs and announcements by leaders of Pat Ja San.
Labeled vigilantes by some and grassroots campaigners by others, Pat Ja San has been active in clearing poppy fields and running detention sites to try to wean substance users off of drugs since 2014. Their militia-inspired tactics – wearing camouflage gear and vowing to use violence where necessary – has earned them a reputation as a hardliners. Health organizations have slammed the group for practices like detaining drug users against their will, flogging drug users and forcing people to quit “cold turkey”.
Pat Ja San leaders say they aim to rid Kachin and northern Shan States of the scourge of a drug addiction that has come hand-in-hand with a booming poppy trade.
“We have destroyed over 4,000 acres of poppy farms from 2015 to 2016. We have achieved success in providing rehabilitation for drug users. Over 7,000 people have gone through our drug rehabilitation centers,” said Sayar Nhkum Tang Goon, secretary of Pat Ja San in Myitkyina.
“We will continue to carry out drug awareness programs and to arrest drug traffickers. We will continue to protect the drug users and to destroy poppy farms,” he said.
During the praying ceremony, Pat Ja San leader Lungjung Tu Raw claimed that Pat Ja San has successfully reduced drug use and curbed the illicit drug trade.
However, according to a 2016 report from the UN Office for Drugs and Crime, opium poppy cultivation in the Golden Triangle area, including Myanmar, has tripled over the past ten years.
Translated by Thida Linn
Edited by Laignee Barron