Yaba has become a headache for Bangladesh because of an alarming rise in smuggling of the contraband drug from Myanmar.
Narcotics control officials say various Myanmar separatist groups produce yaba at 37 factories located in the Shan state – which shares borders border with China, Laos, and Thailand – and smuggle them to different countries to raise funds.
Security forces, intelligence agencies, narcotic officials, and Rohingyas told the Dhaka Tribune that 14 groups operate the factories from where the smugglers collect yaba and send them to drug dealers in Cox’s Bazar’s Teknaf.
Intelligence officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said more than 500 Rohingya yaba smugglers and over 1,000 mules entered Bangladesh after Myanmar launched a crackdown in late August last year.
Several Rohingya smugglers, staying at Cox’s Bazar’s camps, said 13 types of yaba are being produced at the factories in Myanmar.
They alleged that some members of Myanmar Federal Parliament, Shan State Legislature, and influential personalities of the state are backing up the smugglers.
“Peddlers from Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung have strong ties with law enforcers, members of the disbanded Nasaka force, customs officials, and local police as well as influential persons and government watchdogs of Shan state,” one Sabur Ali told the Dhaka Tribune at the camp.
Most of these mules are active members of various separatist groups based in Shan. “Smuggling yaba is one of the main income sources of these outfits. So, they are directly involved with yaba production and peddling,” said another Rohingya peddler Rashid Kulu.
Bangladesh has been repeatedly asking Myanmar to take strict measures to shut down the yaba factories but there has been no visible progress.
Yaba has been smuggled into Bangladesh since 1990. In the beginning, the item came from Thailand.
As the demand increased, separatist groups in Shan set up factories to line their pockets, narcotics control and law enforcement officials said.
The current yaba route starts from Shan, top security officials said. The pills are first taken to Yangon and then to Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, before they are shipped to Maungdaw.
Later, yaba pills in packets are smuggled to Cox’s Bazar, Chittagong, and Barisal.
Teknaf land port sources say many smugglers pay for the contraband goods through authorized banks by over-invoicing, taking advantage of border trade conducted in dollars without requiring a Letter of Credit.
A Border Guard Bangladesh official said that because of reinforced security on the Naf River, yaba smugglers are now taking to the Bay of Bengal to reach as far as Barisal in addition to Cox’s Bazar and other destinations.
Along with BGB, the Navy, Coast Guard and Rapid Action Battalion separately intercepted several sea-going trawlers and seized millions of yaba pills.
“Before 2015, there were more than 50 yaba factories in Shan but the number has come down to 37. However, the amount of yaba being smuggled has been increasing day by day,” said DNC’s Director (Operation and Intelligence) Deputy Inspector General Syed Towfique Uddin Ahmed.