Yangon: Two military officers and two other men have been arrested in Myanmar’s restive Rakhine State with hundreds of thousands of meth tablets in their car, police sources said Tuesday.
Experts say growing demand for methamphetamines in neighbouring Bangladesh is driving a surge in drug trafficking through the volatile border region, where the army has carried out a bloody military crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.
A local border guard police officer said the four men were arrested at a checkpoint while travelling from Rakhine’s Butheedaung township to Maungdaw.
“A major and his fellow soldier and two Rakhines were arrested with stimulant tablets by a combined team on Monday morning,” he told AFP on the condition of anonymity.
“The military officer and soldier will be dealt with according to the military’s rules and regulations, so we have already transferred the two to the local military command.”
He estimated the pills had a street value of around 880 million kyat ($650,000).
Police major Kyaw Mya Win in Maungdaw town confirmed the arrests, but declined to say who was involved.
“Border guard police seized 440,000 stimulant tablets Monday morning from a vehicle that was travelling from Butheedaung to Maungdaw,” he told AFP.
Myanmar is one of the largest drug-producers in the world, churning out vast quantities of opium, cannabis and millions of caffeine-laced methamphetamine pills known as “yaba”.
Last year police confiscated a record 98 million of the tablets, nearly double the 50 million seized in 2015. Drug prosecutions also jumped by around 50 percent to 13,500.
Most pills are made by armed ethnic groups along Myanmar’s eastern border with China and then exported across Southeast Asia, with clients running the gamut from truck drivers to wealthy party-goers.
Military figures have also been accused of profiting from the drug trade but prosecutions of army officers are rare in the former junta-run country.
Meth tablets headed for Bangladesh are often smuggled across the Naf river that divides the two countries by Rohingya Muslims, a poor and persecuted minority.
More than 70,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in recent months to escape a bloody army crackdown in northern Rakhine.
State media has been reporting almost daily seizures of the pills in the area over recent months. In February a Buddhist monk was caught hiding more than four million tablets in his monastery.