Christian vigilante group in Myanmar attacked during anti-poppy raid

Members of a Christian vigilante group in Myanmar have been attacked with machetes during a drug eradication drive that involved destroying opium poppies.

Men smoke opium from traditional pipes made from bamboo in Yansi village in Donhe township in Naga Self-Administered Zone in northwest MyanmarReuters

The group, Pat Jassan, was attacked on February 25 when 300 of its members were en route to a poppy plantation in Waingmaw Township.

The hardline Christian group, established by Kachin Baptist Church, aims to eradicate drug use in Myanmar. Members operate a no-tolerance approach, which includes a unilateral destruction of the opium poppy, despite it being often being the only source of income for the farmers that grow it.

"They first tried to stop us as we were about to enter the poppy fields there. Later they beat us and threw stones at us. Then they burnt tents and took away our food," a member of Pat Jassa, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Irrawady.

"Later they opened fire... and some soldiers and police, who were with us for security, also had to run away. The gunmen who attacked us are believed to be militants operating in the area."

One man was beaten and injured badly, he added. "We still don't know about the others. Now we are running for our lives."

The activists had divided into six groups on Wednesday to begin the destruction of poppy plantations, just one day after a week-long blockade against them at an army checkpoint was lifted.

The exact number injured in the attack remains unknown, as does the identity of the attackers.

"We will help them to search for possible missing campaigners who have run for their lives and now plan to send more security persons to help them," said an officer of the Myitkyina District police officer.

The Pat Jassan has been campaigning for more assistance from the government.

"We feel that there's no protection for us yet despite the Parliament in Naypyidaw discussing our anti-poppy campaigns. We urgently need full support and protection from the government," said Kham Thu Dan Shaung, a central committee member of Pat Jasan.

"Our campaign is to help and support the government's plan to eliminate drugs and poppy plantations. Since we were attacked like this, it is a sign that some people still want to profit out of drug production and that's not good for our country's future."

On Thursday, after an emergency discussion, the parliament approved a motion calling for more support for the group.

Myanmar is behind Afghanistan as the second largest opium producer in the world.