With the harvest season just weeks away, tensions are high in Burma's opium-producing Kachin state following a series of clashes between opium-growing peasants and a local citizen anti-drug movement.
Pat Jasan, a patrol established two years ago by the Kachin Baptist Church, has been in repeated confrontations over the past weeks at Kachin's Waingmaw township. The most recent resulted in at least 20 Pat Jasan followers wounded by gunfire and grenade blasts. The vigilantes were apparently set upon by a heavily-armed force while clearing poppy fields.
It remains unclear who was behind the attack. But U Lagan Zal Jone, an ethnic Kachin member of parliament, introduced a motion immediately after the clash, calling on the government to send troops to back up the Pat Jasan.
However, Pat Jasan, which boasts 100,000 followers, has been accused of rights abuses. There are reports of public floggings of suspected opium growers and dealers, who are sometimes forcibly taken to the group's faith-based "rehabilitation centers."
Pat Jasan patrols wear camouflage jackets and carry batons. Up till now, authorities have insisted that they wear civilian clothes. But if a parliamentary measure passes, they may be integrated into the official security forces.
(Photo Courtesy of GB Times)