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U.S. urges Myanmar's Wa not to proc

U.S. urges Myanmar's Wa not to proceed with relocation

Tim Johnson

Kyodo, Bangkok, 13 October 2000. [The United States] directly
urged the drug-trafficking Wa rebel leadership in Myanmar against
relocating some 100,000 highlanders dependent on opium cultivation
to lowland areas amid reports as many as 1,000 have died since June,
a U.S. Statement Department official said Friday.

James Callahan, in charge of Asia at the department's Bureau of
International Narcotics and Law Enforcement, told reporters in
Bangkok the United Wa State Army's (UWSA) stated intention of
getting highland tribespeople out of opium cultivation by moving
them out of the highlands into lowland areas was 'obviously

He said that while the UWSA probably has multiple motives for
relocating people from the hills of northeastern Shan State near
the China border to newly developed southern lowland territories near
the northern Thai border, one of them is probably to better establish
its claims to the lowlands.

Callahan held unprecedented talks last week with Wa leaders and
officials in northeastern Shan State.

He said they told him that the UWSA had so far relocated some
30,000 people and that it ultimately intends to relocate 100,000.

'Some of those people that had been relocated said that as of
June there had been about 960 deaths of the 30,000 relocated,
and they calculated that by the time of my meeting a week or so
ago it was most likely 1,000,' he said.

Callahan said Wa officials acknowledged there had been some deaths,
attributing them to the effect of climate change. U.N. officials have said
most victims were mostly young children and elderly people susceptible
to mosquito-borne dengue fever and malaria prevalent in the lowlands.

He said Wa leaders claimed it was impossible to develop alternative
crops in the highlands and they wanted a U.N. International Drug Control
Program project operating in Wa-controlled territory to assist in and 
the relocation program -- an idea he quickly dismissed.

The reference was to a crop substitution and alternative development
project that is being supported with funds from the U.S. and Japan.

'The U.N. project was developed to assist the people in the highlands
to subsist in those areas and not to try to move them out,' Callahan
said. 'It has worked in Thailand, it's worked in Laos, it's worked in
Vietnam, so there's no reason it can't work in Burma (Myanmar).'

'Any attempt to try to force the project to be reorient itself to fulfill
or to meet the goals of the Wa, particularly as it related to relocating
people, would meet with the rejection of the donor community
and essentially the project would be brought to an end,' he added.

The project was implemented in furtherance of the UWSA's
unilateral decision announced in 1995 to establish five 'opium-poppy-
free  zones' in its area of control to reduce opium cultivation gradually.

'I advised them that this project needs to be allowed to proceed and
to meet its original goals because if they ever in the long run hope
to become legitimate, to get out of narcotics trafficking and to have
development in that area, they had to show a willingness to allow
the development community to work unimpeded,' Callahan said.

He said Wa officials insisted 'they were using persuasion and they
weren't forcing anyone to go. I can't say whether that's truthful or not.
I leave that to others to determine.'