The success of China’s anti-drug campaign has come under fire after the death of three police officers in Yunnan Province in a gun battle with suspected drug traffickers on Sunday.

Details of the fight were reported by China’s official news agency Xinhua, which said that three officers were killed and another three injured when they encountered 10 members of a suspected drug trafficking gang in the Yinjiang region of Yunnan Province near the Burmese border.

The gang allegedly attacked the officers with automatic rifles and grenades. Police officials say they are hunting for the suspects but gave no further details and were unable to identify the attackers.

According to local sources, the Yinjiang region has one of the highest drug flow rates in Yunnan Province, and the suspects in Sunday’s gun battle are thought to have come from Burma’s Special Region 1, which is occupied both by Burmese troops and members of the ethnic ceasefire group New Democratic Army-Kachin.

Yunnan Province-sharing borders with Burma, Laos and Thailand-is said to have the highest rate of drug use and drug-related crime in China, according to the Xinhua report.

Last year, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met his Burmese counterpart Soe Win to discuss taking tougher action against cross-border drug trafficking, acknowledging the harm of drugs to the local society and the well-being of its residents.

Critics of this policy claim Chinese authorities have been ineffective in their anti-drug campaign because of corruption within the local police force as well as the involvement of the Burmese junta and their proxy militia groups.

“I don’t see them succeeding,” Aung Kyaw Zaw, a Burmese analyst based in the China-Burma border town of Ruili, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “Drugs are coming in as much as ever, and I know that captured drug traffickers have been freed after they bribed authorities.”

Aung Kyaw Zaw believes China’s drug problems could be resolved only when Burma’s political turmoil is resolved. “China should approach Burma to find a solution to the country’s ethnic insurgencies and lack of democracy,” he said.

Liu Yuejin, the deputy director of the anti-narcotics bureau of China’s Ministry of Public Security, claimed in December last year to have succeeded in the fight against drug-related crime in China. He said more than 36,000 cases had been prosecuted and more than 45,000 suspects caught in 2006.

Liu further claimed that Chinese officials seized some 4.79 tons of heroin, 1.52 tons of opium, 4.9 tons of crystallized methamphetamine, more than a quarter million ecstasy tablets, 1.5 tons of ketamine and 267 tons of chemicals used in drug production between January and November of last year.