Matt Pratten

Matt Pratten

Associate Analyst

27/09/2018

27/09/2018

Myanmar's Armed Conflict Threatens to Cross into Northern Thailand

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

While DFAT and the UK FCO would have access to their own sources in addition to the Open Source and Crowd-Sourced information used by Intelligence Fusion, incidents in Thailand and Myanmar during 2018 indicate the drug trafficking operations being done by the UWSA and its FPNCC affiliates have POSSIBLY expanded the Direct Weapons threats seen in Kachin and Shan States of Myanmar into Northern Thailand. While available travel advice for Northern Thailand recommends to “Exercise A High Degree of Caution” or similar actions within Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, it is POSSIBLE these areas should be regarded in similar fashion to Kachin State, Shan State and Southern Thailand where travel is not recommended unless essential.

 

INTRODUCTION

Incident reporting on Myanmar has indicated on the 13 SEP 2018 indicated the UWSA is among the largest drug trafficking groups in Southeast Asia; despite its denials of being involved in the drug trade. Despite its denials, it is known internationally for its trade in opium, heroin and amphetamines. It is the main supplier of drugs to China, Thailand & India. This trade allows the group to continue its operations against the Myanmar government. Profits from the trade allow them to purchase weapons and pay their personnel.

Active within Shan State in the North East of Myanmar, the UWSA is one the several EAGs within Myanmar and is made up of an estimated 30,000 personnel; acting as the military wing of the United Wa State Party. With backing from the Chinese government, the UWSA well-equipped, well-organised, deployed along Myanmar’s borders with Thailand and China and leads a political coalition called the FPNCC. The FPNCC is made up of the National Democratic Alliance Army, Shan State Army-North, Kachin Independence Army, Ta'ang National Liberation Army, Arakan Army, and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army. (Win 2018; McCabe & Harrington 2018; Bodetti 2018; Kuppuswamy 2013).

A map depicting the criminal or security incidents across Myanmar (Burma) between 17th and 24th September 2018

COMMENT. The area where this UWSA led coalition is active covers Kachin and Shan States in Myanmar. Current travel advice for these areas from DFAT and UK FCO warns against travelling to these areas due to ongoing armed conflict. Shown by the imagery below, this same area is the most active area for threats tracked by Intelligence Fusion. Examining available data on Myanmar incidents for 2018 shows the most prevalent threats in Myanmar come from Direct and Indirect Weapons arising from clashes between EAGs and Myanmar forces (DFAT 2018; UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office 2018; McCabe & Harrington 2018).

However, drug trafficking within Myanmar – a sub-category of Criminality incidents – is a lesser but nonetheless recurring threat within the Myanmar. In neighbouring Thailand though, crime is the top threat and consists largely of drug trafficking. The majority of drugs seized in Thailand’s trafficking incidents have been two types of methamphetamine; the crystallised version known as ‘Ice’ and the pill version called ‘Yaba1.’ (McCabe & Harrington 2018). COMMENT ENDS.

While drug trafficking of Yaba and Ice is widespread throughout Thailand and Direct and Indirect Weapons incidents within FPNCC territory (shown in the imagery below); there is an interesting meeting point between the two. Along the Thai/Myanmar border in the South of Shan State / Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai provinces is where these two threats cross over. Incidents logged in this area for 2018 indicate within Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai provinces of Thailand there have been a number of Skirmishes, Small Arms Fire and Drug Trafficking incidents.

COMMENT. Many of these incidents consist of Thailand’s Pha Muang Taskforce clashing with traffickers crossing over from Myanmar transporting Ice or Yaba, locating caches of drugs or arresting traffickers possessing the drugs they are transporting. Looking at the terrain, the incidents logged by Intelligence Fusion show they are occurring in both populated areas (e.g. – Mueang districts of both Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai as well as nearby border crossings) and areas of dense vegetation; indicating that locals or travellers in these areas can be exposed to such incidents (McCabe & Harrington 2018). Based on previously mentioned locations of the UWSA, the traffickers the Pha Muang Taskforce are clashing with would likely be members of the UWSA.

Examination of travel advice indicates that such activities are not a feature in travel advice issued for Thailand by DFAT or the UK FCO. Both agencies warn against travel on the Myanmar side of this area due to armed conflict and banditry but there is no warning given for such threats on the Thai side of the border. As shown in the below imagery from DFAT, this area is rated as “Exercise High Degree of Caution.”

While these agencies would have access to their own sources on the ground in addition to the Open Source and Crowd-Sourced information used by Intelligence Fusion, it must be noted that in other areas where similar Direct Weapons and Crime Incidents occur – such as Kachin and Shan States in Myanmar and Yala, Narathiwat, Pattani and Songkhla provinces in Southern Thailand – travel advice states to either “Reconsider Your Need to Travel,” or “Do Not Travel.” (UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office 2018; DFAT 2018). COMMENT ENDS.

ASSESSMENT

POTENTIAL/POTENTIALLY  POSSIBLE/POSSIBLY  PROBABLE/PROBABLY  CONFIRMED 
Less than 50% chance  50% chance or greater  75% chance or greater  95% chance or greater 

 

While DFAT and the UK FCO would have access to their own sources in addition to the Open Source and Crowd-Sourced information used by Intelligence Fusion, incidents in Thailand and Myanmar during 2018 indicate the drug trafficking operations being done by the UWSA and its FPNCC affiliates have POSSIBLY expanded the Direct Weapons threats seen in Kachin and Shan States of Myanmar. It is POSSIBLE the threats posed by the UWSA and its FPNCC affiliates have crossed the border into Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces in Northern Thailand.

Given that drug trafficking provides a lucrative funding source for the UWSA and its FPNCC affiliates and where these EAGs are located along Myanmar’s borders with China and Thailand, the trafficking and clashes with the Pha Muang Taskforce along the Thai Myanmar border will be an ongoing feature of threats logged by Intelligence Fusion.

While available travel advice for Northern Thailand recommends to “Exercise A High Degree of Caution” or similar actions within Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai, it is POSSIBLE these areas should be regarded in similar fashion to Kachin State, Shan State and Southern Thailand where travel is not recommended unless essential.

 

ACRONYMS

  • DFAT – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • EAG – Ethnic Armed Groups
  • FPNCC - Federal Political Negotiation and Consultative Committee
  • UK FCO – United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office
  • UWSA – United Wa State Army
  • UWSP – United Wa State Party

 

REFERENCES

Bodetti, A 2018, ‘War, Drugs, and Peace: Afghanistan and Myanmar’, The Diplomat, retrieved September 24, 2018, from <https://thediplomat.com/2017/09/war-drugs-and-peace-afghanistan-and-myanmar/>.

DFAT 2018, ‘Myanmar’, Smart Traveller, retrieved September 9, 2018, from <https://smartraveller.gov.au/Countries/asia/south-east/Pages/myanmar.aspx>.

McCabe, M & Harrington, D 2018, ‘Intelligence Fusion Platform - Asia’, Intelligence Fusion Platform, retrieved September 24, 2018, from <https://www.intelligencefusion.co.uk/>.

Kuppuswamy, C 2013, ‘Myanmar: United Wa State Army’, South Asia Analysis Group, retrieved September 24, 2018, from <http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/node/1417>.

UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office 2018, ‘Burma Travel Advice’, Foreign Travel Advice, retrieved September 9, 2018, from <https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/burma>.

Win, K 2018, ‘Ethnic Army Targets Christian Clergy, Churches in Myanmar’s Shan State’, Radio Free Asia, retrieved September 24, 2018, from <https://www.rfa.org/english/news/myanmar/ethnic-army-targets-christian-clergy-09172018155413.html>.

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