Pat Jasan anti-drug campaigners on the outskirts of Wai Maw township prepare for their journey on Feb. 23 to clear a number of opium poppy fields in Myanmar's Kachin State. (Photo from Htoi Awng's Facebook page)
There is a growing Christian activist movement in Myanmar's Kachin state determined to rid the war-torn area of one of its major crops, the poppies used for opium and heroin production.
Known as Pat Jasan, the anti-drug movement was established two years ago by the Kachin Baptist Church.
Made up mostly of ethnic Kachin, Pat Jasan began clearing poppy fields two years ago but put their efforts on hold in January after one of their members was killed and three others injured. A 19-year-old Kachin man was shot dead by a sniper suspected to be the owner of a poppy field that the group was clearing.
Despite this, the group — described by some as vigilantes — managed to destroy around 3,500 acres worth of poppy fields in two townships during that month.
Pat Jasan re-launched their poppy clearing efforts on Feb. 16 but the authorities blocked over 2,000 of their members from entering Wai Maw Township for "security reasons."
After negotiations the authorities have now allowed the group to proceed as planned.
"The military and police will accompany us and provide security," said Daung Hkaung from Pat Jasan on Feb. 23. "We are going to six areas of opium poppy fields in Kambaiti township, Kachin State," he said. The distance to the opium areas is around four hours by car but most of the group are walking.
One of the group's members, Ying Kyang said that they had already planned to complete their goal whether local authorities would allow them or not because it is what the people want.
"We are eradicating drugs because it destroys our younger generations," said Ying Kyang. "In Kachin state almost every family has drug users."
Tu Ja, a Catholic politician from Kachin state's Democracy Party, said that members of Pat Jasan are volunteers.
"Clearing opium poppy fields is one of the ways of tackling the drug issue," Tu Ja told ucanews.com on Feb. 23.
Myanmar's border areas have long been notorious as a drug manufacturing location. Ethnic rebels and the military or its allied militias are allegedly involved in the lucrative trade.
Myanmar is the world's second largest opium producer after Afghanistan. Opium production brings in nine to 15 times more money per hectare than rice according to a 2011 opium survey by the United Nations.