Note: These photos were made available from soldiers of the Karen National Liberation Army. Also, there have been dozens of drug seizures for every one pictured (having a camera along on an action is rare), which seizures continue to this day.

The Karen have a drug-free policy. They work, and fight, to keep drugs out of Karenland, or Kawthoolei, the Karen State of Burma, and to stop their trans-shipment into Thailand. In some cases, including those documented below, they capture the drugs in Burma and then either destroy them or hand them over to the Thai authorities. In other cases, they alert the Thais to incoming shipments and the Thais themselves make the arrests.

The drugs from Burma, on the surface, may come from a variety of sources, such as the Wa ethnic group. However, the Burmese dictatorship and army, the SPDC, is directly responsible for the entire trade, including everything in the following photos.

This is a device used to make “Yaa Baa,” or “Crazy Pill,” or methamphetamine tablets. It was part of a seizure in August 2002 near Waley, which is a border town south of Mae Sot.

Using this, one worker can punch out 800 pills a day. The Thai Internal Security Operations Command has estimated that 700 million pills will be smuggled into Thailand in 2003 (a more recent estimate is over one billion), up from 500 million in 2002, of which 120 million were/will be (at the time of writing) intercepted.

This is a huge industry.

If all the pills are handmade (although many undoubtedly are mass-produced), this alone represents 2,400 person-years of labor. The entire industry includes the suppliers and smugglers of the precursor chemicals, the lab experts responsible for their mixing, the pill punchers and packagers, the people who caravan them into Thailand and elsewhere, and the final distribution network.

Many, many people are involved, from local villagers to whom the monetary temptation is not something they find easy to ignore, to the most wealthy and corrupt generals and politicians, for whom this is a core foundation of their livelihood. It is a very dirty, and bloody, livelihood, but these people, and they have names - although such names are never listed in the so-called “free” Thai press - could care less.

This is a small time SPDC courier. He was caught with 2,000 yaa baa in August 2002, near Myawaddy, the border town across from Mae Sot.

This is a much larger shipment, from October 2001, and in this photo, although it was captured by the Karen, it has already been turned over to the Thais. This seizure was actually arranged through a sting operation, by Karen agents working undercover as buyers, which is an extremely risky undertaking.

The actual shipment was 102,000 yaa baa, although the sign says - in Thai - only 100,000. This figure does not include the small parcel on top of the larger packages.

In the above case, the Karen learned that the SPDC had other stocks of yaa baa ready to ship into Thailand. These six Karen soldiers are part of a larger force of some one hundred and eighty men that attacked simultaneously four SPDC camps. In these actions over twenty SPDC soldiers were killed and an additional 30,000 yaa baa were seized.

This is a major seizure of yaa baa achieved by the Karen in early-summer 2001, in Pa Lu District, south of Mae Sot. The total seizure was some ten million tablets. The Karen could only carry six million, though, which were turned over to the Thai Army. The balance were destroyed. The drugs were stored in a warehouse guarded by seven SPDC soldiers (notice the hat), two of whom were killed in the raid.

For an approximation of the financial stature of this action, one tablet, in Thailand, can sell for 100 Thai baht. The total seizure, therefore, had a street value, in US dollars, of approximately $25 million.

The shipments of drugs generate great funding for the Burmese dictators, which they then use to buy weapons to perpetuate their repression of the Burmese people, including the Karen, Shan, and other hill groups.

The SPDC were infuriated by this seizure and sent a battalion, some three hundred men, to try to reclaim the drugs. They did not succeed.

The Karen strenuously oppose the drug trade from the Burmese generals, and at great risk. They request any and all assistance that may be available from interested parties.