Church-backed vig­i­lantes fight ad­dic­tion

Lesotho Times - - International -

KATCHO — Armed with ba­tons and the bi­ble, church-backed vig­i­lantes are tak­ing the fight against north­ern Myan­mar’s heroin epi­demic into their own hands - deep­en­ing the fall­out from a drugs trade al­ready feed­ing con­flict and cor­rup­tion in the re­gion.

On the leafy banks of the Irrawaddy river, lo­cals from Katcho vil­lage in Kachin state tread care­fully among abun­dant ev­i­dence of ad­dic­tion — scores of sy­ringes strewn on the path­way and piled un­der trees.

“Young peo­ple have no fu­ture here,” said a lo­cal of­fi­cial whose own 18-year-old grand­son is hooked on heroin — which in Kachin is among the purest avail­able any­where in the world.

Ad­dic­tion has rock­eted in this fron­tier re­gion as Myan­mar - which holds a break­through gen­eral elec­tion on 8 Novem­ber — gets hooked on its own prod­uct.

The coun­try is sec­ond largest opium pro­ducer in the world, only Afghanistan makes more.

In ad­di­tion to a nar­cotics cri­sis, Katcho lo­cals now live in fear of hard­line Chris­tian anti-drug or­gan­i­sa­tion, Pat Jasan, af­ter dozens of men in com­bat-style uni­forms re­cently stormed into town, wield­ing ba­tons and round­ing up drug sus­pects.

Mem­bers of Pat Jasan, who are largely eth­nic Kachin, al­legedly beat a woman in the Shan ma­jor­ity town.

The raid raised fears of a new layer of com­mu­nity ten­sion in a state al­ready bat­tered by war be­tween gov­ern­ment forces and eth­nic Kachin rebels.

Con­flict in Kachin flared soon af­ter the mil­i­tary handed power to a quasi-civil­ian gov­ern­ment in 2011.

Em­bat­tled com­mu­ni­ties be­lieve there is a plot “to kill Kachin youths with drugs” said Tu Raw, chair­man of Pat Jasan’s of­fice in the state cap­i­tal My­itky­ina.

“Peo­ple are us­ing, in­ject­ing and dy­ing,” he told AFP, adding two thirds of his child­hood friends had died af­ter be­com­ing hooked on heroin.

The group was founded last year by the pow­er­ful Kachin Bap­tist Church to de­liver shock ther­apy to the drug-ad­dled re­gion.

It now claims 100 000 mem­bers and re­cently be­gan full-scale vil­lage raids in­volv­ing sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple wear­ing cam­ou­flage jack­ets and bran­dish­ing bam­boo ba­tons.

Tu Raw ad­mit­ted some Pat Jasan chap­ters rely on pub­lic flog­gings to pun­ish of­fend­ers be­fore tak­ing them to faith-based re­hab or the po­lice.

But for Pat Jasan the ends jus­ti­fies the means.

Their work is fan­ning out, with Youtube videos do­ing the rounds of camo-clad men scathing down opium plants.

In Hpakant, a six-hour drive from the state cap­i­tal, Pat Jasan mem­ber Du Lum says drug sus­pects have two choices: pun­ish­ment by the po­lice or the group’s “drug de­struc­tion team.

“Ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment, knows they are our rules. We de­stroy drugs by either dis­solv­ing them into wa­ter or burn­ing them, and pun­ish men with five lash­ings,” he told AFP.


a Man in­jects him­self with heroin in a vil­lage near a jade mine in the town­ship of Hpakant in Kachin state

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