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Border Residents Step up Anti-drug Bid

When Zhao Wenhua looks back on his life, he is filled with regret.

After finishing middle school, Zhao returned to his home Nanjiaohe Village in Lancang County, southwest China's Yunnan Province. Life was good. In just a few years, he was able to buy a tractor and earned over 30,000 yuan (US$3,660) a year.

But the success story came to an abrupt halt in 1995 when Zhao and others in his family became addicted to drugs.

To feed his habit, Zhao sold his tractor, personal belongings and anything else he could lay his hands on.

Zhao was just one of over 120 people, half his village's population, who were addicts.

In Nanjiaohe, already struggling to escape poverty, drugs only made things harder.

Zhao says that in 2001, villagers had less than 100 kilograms of grain each to last the whole year. Average annual income was less than 300 yuan (US$36.60).

Between 1995 and 2001, 90 percent of children in the village were unable to go to school because their families could not afford the tuition fees.

Thirteen men in the village died as a result of taking drugs and 45 people were sentenced for drug-related offences.

A saying arose among local people: "An opium pipe destroys all human relations, half a tinfoil burns all the fields and houses."

A turning point came in 2001, when the Anti-Drugs Work Team organized by the county and township governments became active in the village.

The team worked alongside villagers to help the addicts get off drugs while maintaining normal lives with their families and carrying out daily farm work.

After four years, there are no longer any drug addicts in Nanjiaohe. Average annual income exceeds 700 yuan (US$85.40), and each villager has 250 kilograms of grain for a year.

After kicking his habit, Zhao's farming got back on track and he soon married. The villagers elected him as village head, and this year he is leading a village project to plant hectares of tea. He is saving up for a new tractor.

Lancang's example

The great change that Zhao and his fellow villagers shared is also being experienced by other people in Lancang County, China's only Lahu autonomous county. Of the county's 470,000 people, 78 percent are from the Lahu, Wa or Hani minorities.

According to the county's Anti-Narcotics Commission, by the end of 2004 there had been over 2,900 registered drug addicts.

Lei Huan, vice-director of Lancang Public Security Bureau, says there are historical and geographical reasons for the county's drug problem.

Records show that between 1932 and 1937, people in the region planted nearly 27,000 hectares of opium poppies.

Local people couldn't afford proper medical care, as a result, says Lei, opium became a panacea used to alleviate pain and numb desperate minds.

As Lancang borders the "Golden Triangle" between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, an area synonymous with the opium trade, narcotics were easily available and crime was rife, explains Lei.

Lancang County government set up a rehabilitation farm at Zhanmapo in 1997.

It was the first township level rehabilitation farm in Yunnan.

On the farm, addicts help with farm work, such as growing rice and tea, as rehabilitation.

Zhanmapo's example has been followed throughout the province.

The Lancang experience is only a part of a "people's war on narcotics" waged throughout Yunnan. The three-year campaign aims to eradicate the drugs market and put an end to drug-related crimes, says Li Hanbai, vice-governor of Yunnan and director of Yunnan's Anti-Narcotics Commission.

Li wants every family in every community in the province to be involved in the anti-narcotics campaign which is tackling the planting, production, trading and taking of drugs.

Take Yuxi for example, which lies 90 kilometres south of Kunming, the provincial capital. With fertile land and a temperate climate, the city is important to Yunnan's economy.

No 213 highway, which runs across Yuxi, has become a well used drug trail. According to Yuxi Public Security Bureau, since the first drug addict was discovered in Yuxi in 1989, the number of registered addicts has increased to over 4,400.

More than 1,000 are still addicted, while the others have either got off drugs, are in jail, dead or have moved out of the city.

Shu, also head of Yuxi Anti-Narcotics Commission, says that drug traffickers in Yuxi only carry small quantities of drugs, making them hard to punishment under the Criminal Law.

As a result, drug dealers have become the focus of Yuxi's anti-drugs efforts.

Public security organs, prosecutors and people's courts in Yuxi have set up a database of over 4,000 drug addicts' files, including 3,000 pictures. According to Shu, the database has played a crucial role in identifying drug dealers and bringing them to justice.

The first drug addict in Yuxi's Eshan Yi Autonomous County was registered in 1989. By 2004, 150 addicts were registered in the county of 140,000 people.

Pang Hongbin, deputy county magistrate, said that over the past few years, almost every resident in the county has been involved in the campaign against drugs.

In Wenming Village, many residents struggled to make a living and some became addicted to drugs. At its worst, there were 29 registered addicts living in the village.

Police, village officials and the addicts' families formed teams to help get the addicts off drugs. The village mosque also joined in the fight against drugs.

The village is now free of addicts and Eshan has applied for the title of "Drug-Free County."

Inescapable net

Xishuangbanna is another area of the provincial focus on fighting drugs. It lies at the southern end of No 213 highway. The border city is a famous tourist centre but it too has been suffering from the rampant drug trade.

Liu Qing, head of the city's Public Security Anti-Narcotics Team, explains that a network has been set up to attack the problem on several fronts.

While police try to put an end to the drugs trade, the social sector including the workers' union, youth association and women's federation, has been engaged in setting up education programmes. Families, communities and volunteers have also joined hands to help the drug addicts.

(China Daily November 17, 2005)

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