Meth seizures shoot up in Myanmar's crisis-hit Rakhine

Rohingya refugees, who crossed the border from Myanmar two days before, walk after they received permission from the Bangladeshi army to continue on to the refugee camps, in Palang Khali, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh on Oct 19, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

YANGON (AFP) - Myanmar police have seized more than US$5 million (S$6.8 million) worth of methamphetamine pills in the north of violence-racked Rakhine state this month, an officer said Sunday (Oct 22).

Millions of the caffeine-laced meth tablets were intercepted in Maungdaw district, the centre of an army-led crackdown that has driven more than half a million Rohingya Muslims to flee across the border into Bangladesh in just two months.

Myanmar troops poured into the area in late August to launch a counter-offensive against Rohingya militants who attacked police posts. This grew into a full-blown ethnic cleansing campaign against the Muslim minority, according to the UN and others.

As the region reels from the refugee crisis, a lucrative narcotics trade continues across the border into Bangladesh, where there is high demand for the addictive meth pills known by their Thai name "yaba" or "crazy medicine".

"We have seized 3,563,355 stimulant tablets from five drugs trafficking cases starting from this month in Maungdaw," local anti-drugs officer Maung Maung Yin told AFP.

It was the largest monthly haul in the area since February when police launched a statewide anti-narcotics operation, he said.

"We seized these drugs while we were working to enforce tight security in the area because of the situation," the officer added, in reference to the violence that seen hundreds of Rohingya villages torched.

Seven ethnic Rakhine men - who, apart from the Rohingya are the other main minority group based in the area - have been arrested in connection with the trafficking, he said.

State media said the pills, which sell for around $1-2 each, were marked with the "WY" stamp of the ethnic Wa drug lords who run Myanmar's lucrative narcotics trade.

The heavily armed Wa churn out the tablets in laboratories in Myanmar's north-east, where they run a independent statelet guarded by a standing army.

Huge amounts of drugs are smuggled from that "Golden Triangle" zone south to Bangkok and beyond, but a westward route to Bangladesh - the gateway to other South Asian markets - has also flourished.

In recent years Bangladeshi security forces have seized millions of meth tablets from traffickers trying to enter the Cox's Bazar area by land and sea.

Earlier this month two Myanmar soldiers were caught with nearly two million yaba pills in Maungdaw.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.