Saturday, February 13, 2016

Burma’s Escobar: Parliament Speaker A Narco Warlord

After National League for Democracy (NLD) has confirmed the speakers and deputy speakers of the upcoming parliaments today, questions have been raising regarding with the deputy speaker of the Lower House T Khun Myat relating with the drug issue.

The NLD chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi selected Win Myint as the Lower House Speaker, T Khun Myat as Deputy Lower House Speaker, Mann Win Khaing Than as the Upper House Speaker and Aye Thar Aung as Deputy Upper House Speaker, according to Win Htein, the central executive committee member of the NLD.  

Suu Kyi confirmed that when she met with the NLD representatives in Zabbuthiri Hall located in parliament compound this morning. Win Myint and Mann Win Khaing Than are from the NLD and T Khun Myat is from the Union Solidarity and Development Party and Aye Thar Aung is from Arakan National Party.

Amongst, T Khun Myat is the leader of Kutkai Township’s militia and was elected as the Lower House MP of Kutkai, Northern Shan State in 2010 Election representing the USDP. He also served as the chairperson of the Lower House Bill Committee.

He has been consistently accused of deeply involving in drug trade since 2010. The Shan Herald News published “New drug lords become USDP MPs” on November 16, 2010 claiming the elected Liu Guoxi, Bai Xuoqian, Kyaw Myint, Keng Mai, T Khun Myat and Myint Lwin as well known the drug lords, according to Khuensai, the leader of drug watch group.

Before that, the Shan Herald News has published an article “Militias, so-called drug lords, are contesting in the election” on September 30, 2010 pointing that Myint Lwin (aka) Wang Guoda and T Khun Myat were contesting in the election representing Kutkai Constituency, Keng Mai representing Muse and Panse Kyaw Myint representing Namkham. 

According to the news published by the Shan Herald, T Khun Myat is the leader of the Kutkai militia having 600 soldiers and he has attended the National Conference. He was also notorious for money laundering.He was a shareholder of Myanmar May Flower Bank, which was abolished due to money laundering relating with drugs.

The mentioned news of the Shan Herald said that Myint Lwin and Keng Mai manufactured drugs and opium in Muse and Kutkai and T Khun Myat was trading opium to China through their stronghold area of Keng Mai. Similarly, T Khun Myat was published in the article named ‘Drug lords in Parliament’ published by the Shan Drug Watch Journal.

Likewise, the Irrawaddy has published the similar article on June 17, 2013 about T Khun Myat and the opium business with sound evidences. The Irrawaddy article wrote details about two USDP MPs - T Khun Myat and Panse Kyaw Myint (aka) Li Yung Shau. The article said that T Khun Myat is the leader of Kutkai militia and Kyaw Myint is the leader of Panse militia. Such militia forces are the government-backed and officially known as People’s Militia Forces.

The Irrawaddy article said that they are known as the drug lords in modern age because they mainly involve in opium trade since they plant and produce opium, white and black heroin in their controlled area. What is more, they take charges and taxes from others to produce opium in those areas.

According to the Irrawady, the officers of the militia led by them involve in the list of opium poppy planters. Most militia officers are the Myanmar nationals born in China. The opium planters are not daring to run plantation outside their controlled area. 

The article says that most opium planters are Chinese and militia members in their controlled area and locals from surrounding villages have to assist for cultivation and harvesting.  The drugs were being traded in villages near the opium cultivation. The Irrawaddy reporter witnessed that drugs are widely traded in Nankham and Mantong where controlled by Anti-Drug bodies, polices, government military, and militia forces of T Khun Myat and Kyaw Myint Panse.

Additionally, the article says that the Opium Warlord Khun Sa and the United Wa State Army were well-known in opium plantation of Myanmar before. However, T Khun Myat and Kyaw Myint Panse become modern opium lords as well as the members of parliament and the leaders of the militia forces. Also, according to the research of the Irrawaddy reporter, their controlled areas are mostly involved in the trade of white and black heroin and other opium in Northern Shan State. 

What is more, according to the article, opium trade can be seen in Mongyulay, Namphatkar, Shwemaw, 12 mile- Mongloi, Kampapo, Tarpankon, Shoutpankon. The areas located in Kutkai and they are controlled by T Khun Myat and Kyaw Myint Panse. Likewise, opium plantation can be seen in Marsong, Kampapo and Mankaw, Hpapyae, Kyankar, Loingo, Loinang, Loitong located in Kutkai and controlled by the militias. 

NLD’s nomination for the deputy parliament speaker of an accused opium warlord might be debatable for the upcoming parliament held on February 1 and it might be the first major test for the NLD. However, T Khun Myat challenged that all accusation against him regarding with the opium can be tabled legally, through The Ladies News Journal on 28th January.

“They can submit the evidences if they have. I just served for the regional peace and the public’s security by cooperating with the military. I don’t want to dig the past. There are many drug factories that I destroyed. I don’t want to tell unnecessary things which both the military and the department do not want to. We cannot reply to everything nonsense. If they have the evidences, then just put them on the table,” he said in The Ladies News Journal.

As a matter of fact, the Anti-Money Laundering Central Board and the Financial Intelligence Unite have to investigate him and his family’s properties since he is going to take the position of deputy parliament speaker. Also, the NLD has to explain about the nominee for clearance from suspects.

More people are engaged in opium production and more of them, including women and monks, are using drugs in Shan State North, according to local sources and researchers. “On social occasions, whether religious merit-making, wedding or funerals, where people go until late at night or all night to help, yaba (methamphetamine) is being offered just as plain tea,” said a villager. “To many, it is known as a invigorator and refresher.”

Most of the drug abuse are under the control of People’s Militia Forces (PMFs) set up by the Burma Army, reported researchers. In Kutkhai, controlled by the para-militaries of T. Khun Myat the Kutkhai PMF leader and elected Member of Parliament, researchers had conducted a survey in March.

From ten of the villages they had investigated came the following statistics:

Households            599
Population              (2,080 m, 2,617 f) 4,697
Drug users              (1,330 m, 26 f) 1,356 (28.87%)
Poppy acreage        1,571 acres (2.6 acres per household)

Most of the users are ages between15-45. Taxes paid to the PMF and the Burma Army (through PMFs) were: K 100,000 ($ 125) per acre and 10% of the harvest. The price was K 900,000 ($ 1,125) at the farm gate and K 1,200,000 ($ 1,500) downtown.

Earlier, they had also conducted a survey on the Hsenwi (under Kawngkha PMF)-Lashio (under Manpang PMF) township border areas:

Villages                   24
Households             2,215
Population               (6,498 m, 6,881 f) 13,379
Drug users              (4,670 m, 1,468 f) 6,133 (45.8%)
Poppy acreage        13,322 (About 1 acre per household)

The worsening drug abuse situation had led to a petition by the monks from Muse, Namkham, Kutkhai and Mantong to Shan State Chief Minister Sao Aung Myat on 24 October 2011 to take Firm action against the trend. “Out of a 40 household village in Mantong, the situation is so bad only two homes remain free from drug abuse,” they wrote.

Retail prices of drugs in these areas:

Opium                       12,000 kyat ($ 15) per kyat (16 gm)
Khakhu                      3,000 kyat ($ 3,75) per packet
Yaba (high quality)      1,500 kyat ($ 1.88) per pill
Yaba (low quality)       1,200 kyat ($ 1.5) per pill
Heroin                       1,000 kyat ($ 1.25) per small straw
Heroin                       3,000 kyat ($ 3.75) per big straw

On the Thai-Burmese border in Tachilek, retail prices are much higher:

Yaba (Wa made)        100 baht ($ 3.3) per pill
Yaba (PMF made)       50 baht ($ 1.6) per pill

Out of 55 townships in Shan State, 49 were reported producing opium during the 2011-12 season. 

Myo Yan Naung Thein, National League for Democracy's (NLD) secretary of central committee for research and strategy studies, claims that the party—NLD—have monitored the activities of everyone from Shan State including U T Khun Myat since 2014 May.

His claim was a response to questions and criticisms against NLD choosing T Khun Myat from Union Solidarity and Development Party who has been accused of involvement in drug trades and money laundering.

“Not all the accusations are true. Some journalists—in my opinion and I apologize in advance—write their stories to be interesting. Therefore, while investigating for the information and reporting, they do not follow in details as much as we did when we researched. We looked in every way and from different perspectives. We don’t focus on one thing.

So we have full details. I see the news (stories) were presented from only one side. We can accept (him). Not just accepting, we believe he is appropriate for the position. Some cases cannot be told to the media. Some of the details cannot be shared. However, we know who did what. I have monitored and studied Shan State for over a year. The researches in Kachin and Shan States were started in May 2014. We learnt about the activities and occurrences of every single person,” explained Myo Yan Naung Thein.

T Khun Myat, formerly leader of Kutkai militia, became parliamentarian from USDP representing Kutkai Township in 2010 and later chaired Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house) Bill Committee. He won in the 2015 election representing Kutkai Township where his militia has a stronghold. Questions recently arises among the public while he has been nominated as deputy spokesperson for Pyithu Hluttaw.

Narco Warlord T Khun Myat (R) with NLD Chairman ASSK.
NLD central executive committee member Nyan Win announced the candidates for spokespersons and deputy spokespersons for parliament on January 28 after a CEC meeting.

“Mainly, we choose the ones we believe will do their best to ensure democracy. That is the most important thing. The decision was made after a CEC meeting. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi attended the meeting. There was no guideline. We discussed on who to choose and what kind of people should be chosen. And we have chosen the people we believe can be trusted, those who believe in democracy and loyal to our party. We bases on those facts. We chose our candidates based on these qualifications,” explained Nyan Win.

While criticisms arises against NLD choosing T Khun Myat as deputy spokesperson for lower house, NLD CEC member Win Htein congratulated him during an interview with DVB news on January 29.

“A militia leader. When I met him, I told him that his father and I were friends and he was happy to know that. His family is influential in the region and did many good things for the locals. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi chose to honor the deeds and selected him, an ethnic member. I’m glad,” Win Htein told DVB. While DVB asked about criticisms on T Khun Myat, Win Htein replied saying why were they quiet in the last five years and he ‘does not care’.

“Why were they quiet in the last five years? We cannot understand why they disclose is now. Still, (we) do not care. In the last five years, T Khun Myat successfully fulfilled his responsibilities. That is evidence. I believe he will be able to accomplish more in the coming years,” Win Htein said.

Although Win Htein said there was no criticism against T Khun Myat before, questions relating to accusations against him involving in drug trades and poppy fields in the area controlled by his militia were reported on media outlets in 2010, 2011, 2013 and during the run-ups to 2015 election.

Eleven Media Group’s CEO Dr. Than Htut Aung posted on his Facebook social media page on January 29 saying,

“2010 election and 2015 election: USDP government and NLD government: the values that the public place upon them are different. How the international community views them is different. The way people are interested in them are also different. That is also true while choosing parliamentary leaders for the next government.

Irrawaddy and Shan Herald reported about T Khun Myat and drug trade. Shan Herald had published the stories a while ago: in 2010 and 2011. Irrawaddy published the stories in 2013. The stories were reported during the era when media starts to enjoy press freedom; in an era when official denials can be made.

It was not like the previous times while one-sided accusations were being reported. The data for the story was collected through investigative reporting. Until now, there are still controversies on what the locals said. In international standard, involvement in drug trade is the most shameful. It can affect the reputation of the parliament and the 2015 election.

Investigations into the issue must be organized. Locals, Shan Herald, Irrawaddy and T Khun Myat must be questioned. Inquiries must be made into the properties, businesses and tax payments of T Khun Myat. This is just pointing out the means that can be arranged in democratic standards and international standards.

The investigation must be conducted by an independent and free organization. Because the accusations are related to drug trade, the most infamous case in international community. If the accusations are wrong, the dignity of both T Khun Myat and the parliament will grow. If no such measures are conducted, it will be a shadow haunting the parliament for the next five years. This is a test on Myanmar’s democracy.”

Nevertheless, T Khun Myat denied any accusations on his involvements in drug trade. In his interview with Irrawaddy news on January 29, T Khun Myat said ‘the truth must be uncovered’. On the same day, he told Democratic Voice of Burma TV news to go to Kutkai and investigate.

“I don’t want to say (anything). I see this as an intentional attack. News media will criticize me while I rose up. However, to be the truth, the source must be reliable. So the best way is go to my region without my knowledge. Go and investigate. That is all I want to say. That is the way to uncover the truth,” T Khun Myat, leader of Kutkai militia, told DVB news.

While he encourage the media to go and investigate in Kutkai, the news articles, opinion pieces and quotes from the locals published in Irrawaddy and Shan Herald news were reported after investigating in the region.

According to the popular Burmese blog The Opposite Eyes no one from the Kutkai region controlled by the brutal para-militaries of T Khun Myat dares to openly accuse him of drug trafficking as there were unsolved cases of murder and disappearance of so many people who dared to do exactly that.

As long as he is a powerful narco warlord and the parliamentary representative of Kutkai the locals there would be shutting their mouths tight no matter who or what institution is investigating him.

Poppy fields in T Khun Myat's Kutkai Township of lawless Shan State.