High praise for weed bust: Facebook leads Myanmar police to marijuana-growing Americans

Above, some of the 350,000 marijuana plants in Ngunzun township near Mandalay that Myanmar police raided on Monday, April 22, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 25 April 2019
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High praise for weed bust: Facebook leads Myanmar police to marijuana-growing Americans

  • Police raided the 20-acre site in Ngunzun township Monday to find nearly 350,000 marijuana plants
  • Seizures of heroin, pills and crystal meth by authorities are more common in Myanmar

YANGON: Myanmar police have arrested one American and two locals after photos on Facebook led them to a huge plantation of towering marijuana plants near Mandalay.
Pictures of the fields of weed started circulating on the platform last week — a rare sight online in a country where police photos of seized heroin and methamphetamine are far more common.
Police raided the 20-acre site in Ngunzun township Monday to find nearly 350,000 marijuana plants — some up to two meters tall — 380 kilograms of seeds and 270 kilograms of marijuana, the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control (CCDAC) announced Wednesday.
A released photo showed arrested US citizen John Fredric Todoroki, 63, standing alongside Myanmar nationals Shein Latt, 37, and Ma Shun Le Myat Noe, 23.
Another man, 49-year-old Alexander Skemp Todoroki, is still “at large,” the CCDAC said.
Police confirmed he is also American.
The detainees have been charged under the Anti-Narcotics Drug and Psychotropic Substances Law, though it remains unclear what penalties they will face if found guilty.
“We didn’t know this (marijuana plantation) existed,” one local police officer said, asking not to be named.
“We only found out when we were tipped off about it.”
Seizures of heroin, pills and crystal meth by authorities are more common in Myanmar, where weak rule of law and conflict-riddled border areas allow for the industrial-scale production of harder drugs.
Reaction on Facebook was swift, with some offering high praise for the arrests.
Others questioned how the pot growers had been able to get away with it for so long.
“How could the plants have grown so big without you allowing it?” Facebook user Kg Zoe Law commented at the police.
But not everyone’s nose was put out of joint by the agronomists’ antics.
“Let me know where it’ll be burned so I can get in position,” San Yu Ko Ko pleaded.


Miracle of ‘Wild Boars’ rescue transforms Thai cave into tourist draw

Updated 18 June 2019
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Miracle of ‘Wild Boars’ rescue transforms Thai cave into tourist draw

  • Between October 2018 and April this year alone 1.3 million people have visited the cave complex
  • The government now has big plans for the area around the storied Tham Luang cave

MAE SAI, Thailand: Tourists snap selfies by a bronze statue of the diver who died trying to save the ‘Wild Boars’ football team from a flooded cave, while mementos from their rescue fly off the shelves — scooped up by the 1.3 million people who have descended on a once serene mountainside in northern Thailand.
“It’s amazing what happened here. I followed everything from Australia,” tourist John McGowan said after taking photos at the visitor center around 100 meters from the Tham Luang cave entrance.
“I wanted to see it with my own eyes,” the 60-year-old said, adding he was a little disappointed the cave is still off limits to visitors.
For a few dollars, tourists can get framed photos at the site, pick up posters of the footballers and take home a souvenir t-shirt — some printed with the face of Saman Gunan the Thai diver who died in the bid to save the group.
There has been extraordinary global interest in the picturesque rural backwater of Mae Sai since 12 youngsters — aged between 11 and 16 — and their coach entered the Tham Luang cave on June 23, 2018.
They quickly became trapped by rising water levels and the daring, unprecedented mission to extract them through twisting flooded passageways captivated the world for 18 nail-biting days.
When they emerged — after being heavily sedated and maneuvered out by expert divers — they did so into the center of a global media frenzy.
The cave, which previously received around 5,000 visitors a year, has since been inundated by visitors both Thai and foreign.
“A miracle has happened here with these children,” Singaporean tourist Cheong, giving one name, said but adding Tham Luang “must still have a spiritual side” despite the mass popularity.
Mae Sai district, where the cave is located, was considered off the beaten track for foreign visitors.
But between October 2018 and April this year alone “1.3 million people visited,” site manager Kawee Prasomphol said.
The government now has big plans for the area around the storied cave, Kawee added, allocating a total of 50 million baht ($1.6 million) including a shopping complex, restaurants, hotels and several campsites outside the national park.
Vans disgorge streams of tourists who explore a visitor hub where the centerpiece is a mural entitled “The Heroes.”
It depicts the young footballers, stars of the rescue, and junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha — a reminder of the governmental fingerprints in aiding their cause.
At the heart of the mural is the beaming face of Saman Gunan, the Thai Navy SEAL diver who ran out of oxygen attempting to establish an airline to the children and their coach — the only fatality across the near three-week rescue mission.
Laying white flowers at the foot of his bronze statue, Thai nurse Sumalee, who traveled four hours to the site, described him as “the hero of the whole country” in a sobering reminder of the risks involved in the rescue amid the blizzard of marketing opportunities now attached to the cave story.
Nearby lottery ticket vendors are capitalizing on the perceived good fortune linked to the boys’ survival and the folkloric appeal of a nearby shrine. The number of stalls has mushroomed from a few dozen to around 250.
Kraingkrai Kamsuwan, 60, who moved his stall to the site weeks after the rescue, sells 4,000 tickets a month ($2.5) but reckons more will visitors will arrive once the cave reopens.
He said: “People want to gamble after wishing for luck from the shrine.”