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Date: Sun, 21 Jan 1996 19:17:24 +0000
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Organization: Forum for Democracy and Human Rights

THE HINDU : DRUGLORD, NOW OVERLORD
21 Jan, 1996
When the Government troops in Myanmar ( Burma ) walked into Homong and
took over the headquarters and control of the ethnic Shan insurgent group, the 
Mong Tai Army ( MTA ), it was little more than an end to an armed rebellion.

If Khun Sa, leader of the MTA which has been waging a war against the 
Myanmar forces for self-determination for the Shan tribes, was also the 
kingpin of the drug trade, that was only a coincidence, according  to 
anti-narcotics officials in Bangkok.

They see the surrender of Khun Sa and a majority of his army to the government 
of Myanmar as the abandoning of their struggle and another of the "cease-fires" 
that the military junta has entered into with such insurgent groups.

For the State Law and Order Restoration Council ( SLORC ) that is running 
the country, another vast region in the North-east of Myanmar has now come 
under its domain. Thus the armed forces need not continue its operations in the 
Shan State to quell the MTA.

The MTA has suffered many splits and desertions in the past. Two or three of
its prominent leaders have struck deals with the SLORC during the past five 
years and given up their armed fight for liberation or autonomy. But, as the Thai
and American officials in UN. Anti-narcotics programme say, " There is no 
record or evidence to suggest that any of these groups - be it the Wa or the 
Kokang or Gun Yod - has given up drug trafficking after coming to an agreement 
with the military leadership."

In the first week of this month, Myanmar troops moves into the MTA's 
headquarters in Homong, without any resistance. From January 7, the actual
 surrender of cadres began and Myanmar television showed clippings of the 
surrender of over 4000 troops and huge cache weapons.

The indication of Khun Sa's plans came in November last year when he
announced his ` retirement.' The media had immediate access to him because his 
troops function  on the Thai-Myanmar border. He gave them detailed interviews 
on his plans and declared that he had had enough and it was time to hang up the 
boots and lead a quiet life in retirement.

" I want to live on my own and make a living. I want to farm, grow trees and raise
cattle, " he said in one of those interviews. Though he preferred to settle down in
Thailand, that government would have none of it. Bangkok is neck-deep in its 
battle with the drug traffickers and does not want to enter into any such deals. 
It could be political suicide for it.

Only recently, a Bangkok court had declared the extradition of former ruling 
Chart Thai party MP, Mr. Thanong Siripreechhapong. Two other leading party
functionaries, wanting to join the Cabinet, are facing chargers by the US 
administration of involvement in the drug trade. They are, under a probe to be
cleared before assuming power. Under these circumstances, Thailand will have 
none of Khun Sa. A large number of Thai officials and security forces in the 
border areas were in Khun Sa's payroll to facilitate the drug trade. When he 
learnt that retired life in Thailand was not possible, he is reported to have invited 
the Myanmar military chieftains for negotiations. When a deal was struck, the 
surrendered without a protest.

But officials here say that some 50,000 sacks of rice have already been handed
over to the MTA as a "gesture" from Yangon and the other elements of the deal 
are now being worked out.

At least for a showoff, Khun Sa could be charged in Yangon  court to tell the 
world how serious SLORC is about crime and drug busting. But behind the scene,
he can continue with his life as he wants so long as there is no war with the 
government. It is quite likely that some arrangement for a local government in the 
Shan State, to be run by men hand-picked by Khun Sa, will be worked out in due 
course.

Khun Sa was born to an ethnic Chinese father and a Shan mother 62 years ago.
 He grew up with Shan nationalism, but more so in poppy cultivation and a 
thriving drug trade. Officials say he got a start in the trade in 1963 , when he ran 
a militia to assist Rangoon in keeping rebels movements under check. Since the 
administration could not pay them, they allow him to smuggle opium as 
compensation.

Though he was temporarily immobilised in 1967 in the drive against drugs and 
its traders by the communists in China, he rebuilt his empire in the Thai-Burmese 
empire and amassed an army of some 12,000 cadres.

During the past two years, he has been considerably weakened by desertions and 
arrests. At least 10 of his senior leaders were nabbed in Thailand on an American 
request. After the last bout of desertions by Gun Yod, he realized the futility of 
continuing with his trade and called it a day.

Khun Sa himself is confident that the drug trade will continue despite his 
surrender. Opium is produced by the local people. Everyone is involved in the 
trade on daily basis. Otherwise they would starve. Burmese money has no value.
 Rice costs 400-500 Thai Bhat a kg and the people earn only 200 Bhat a day. 
They can't even afford the rice," he argued in one of his interviews. He was 
equally sure that he could not be touched by the US authorities. " They wouldn't
dare. I still have many supporters and the terrain here is mountainous with 
forests."

When it became known that the MTA has surrendered and Khun Sa was still 
living in Homong under the army's control, the US authorities thought it was 
time to ask for Khun Sa. The American Embassy in Bangkok announced first
reward of $ 2 million for any information leading to arrest of 62-year old drug 
warlord. Then came the appeal to the junta to hand him over and clear the decks 
for his extradition.

Khun Sa is wanted in a heroin smuggling case and a US court called for his 
extradition in 1989. SLORC which just then seized power in Yangon, 
pleaded its inability because the Shan province was out of its control and it could
 not lay its hand on the Druglord. But today, when SLORC realises the tirade 
Washington has launched against the military rule, it sees no need or compulsion 
to hand over Khun Sa. An official in Yangon it clear that the administration was 
not thinking of extradition right now. Khun Sa would be tried locally before 
thinking of anything else.

The US Assistant Sec. of State, Mr. Winston Lord, on a South-east Asia visit 
last week, stopped over in Bangkok and repeated the American request: 
" We would urge the SLORC not only to convict or detain Khun Sa but also 
extradite to the US." Allowing him to go Scot free would be defeat for 
international war against narcotics, he argued but in vain. So long as the junta 
remains in command in Myanmar, Khun Sa may be safe. ( V. Jayanth , BKK )

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