YANGON — Two Tatmadaw soldiers are being questioned after they were caught with nearly two million “yaba” pills in restive Rakhine State, police said Tuesday, as the drugs trade goes on despite communal violence.
The men were held after 1.88 million tablets said to be worth around $2.8 million were found in a military vehicle in the town of Maungdaw on October 1, a senior anti-drugs officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Maungdaw is the epicentre of violence that has left hundreds dead and sent 500,000 Rohingya residents fleeing into Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s army has flooded the area since August 25 in a major offensive designed to flush out militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
But their presence appears to have failed to slow the drug trade.
Yaba, a Thai word meaning “crazy medicine”, is a concoction of methamphetamine and caffeine that has become popular among young people in Bangladesh.
Myanmar’s western border zone is awash with methamphetamine, most destined for Bangladesh.
There have long been rumours of militants, security forces and local businessmen getting rich on drug trafficking — a trade that has cut across communal rivalries.
The pills were marked with “WY and R brands”, the police source added, referring to popular brands pumped out by the United Wa State Army.
The UWSA, Myanmar’s largest non-state armed group, churns out most of Southeast Asia’s methamphetamine. The discovery in Maungdaw suggests drug routes have survived the crisis that has engulfed Rakhine.
In recent years Bangladeshi security forces have seized millions of yaba tablets from traffickers attempting to enter its Cox’s Bazar area by land and sea.
Last week Bangladesh arrested three Rohingya men attempting to smuggle 800,000 meth pills into the country from Myanmar via the Naf river at the height of the refugee crisis.