A standoff is ongoing in northern Myanmar between police and Christian anti-drug crusaders attempting to destroy poppy fields, the BBC reported Sunday.
Police have blocked members of Pat Jasan, a Christian group that may have as many as 100,000 anti-drug activists, from proceeding toward poppy fields in the northern state of Kachin. Members of the group, some reportedly wearing military-style fatigues, are currently stopped outside the town of Waingmaw. Local farmers have pledged to fight back if the group is allowed through.
Myanmar was formerly the world’s largest producer of opium before being surpassed by Afghanistan at the end of the last century. But increased demand for opium and heroin — its major byproduct — from consumers in China, Australia and Japan has led to a production increase in recent years. In response, the Kachin Baptist Church formed the Pat Jasan group about two years ago. Most members are ethnic Kachin, and the group is reported to carry out full-fledged raids of opium-producing villages and even public floggings of drug dealers.
Along with Laos and Thailand, Myanmar is part of the “Golden Triangle,” an area of Southeast Asia known for opium production. Myanmar’s government originally pledged to eliminate poppy cultivation by 2014 — a deadline since extended to 2019.