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Bangkok Post News (8-2-99)

<bold>Joint hunt for new drug baron intensifies Burmese rebel chief
overshadows Khun Sa 


Subin Khernkaew 

Thai and Burmese authorities have intensified their search for the new
drug baron Wei Hsueh-kang while a problem over the spelling of names has
hindered efforts to track down illicit drug producers and traders. 

A reliable source said Wei or Prasit Cheewinnittipanya, 47, is emerging
as a powerful drug kingpin whose profile in the underworld is slowly
overshadowing retired drug warlord Khun Sa. 

He mostly controls distribution and trade of narcotics, particularly
amphetamines, along the Thai-Burmese border opposite Chiang Mai, Chiang
Rai and Mae Hong Son.

The source said most of the drug production bases close to the northern
Thai border are operated by the United Wa State Army with Wei as the

Where the bases are not under the UWSA control, the operators who belong
to other minority groups still rely on its military protection from the
threat of invasion by the Rangoon troops.

The UWSA comprising of up to 5,000 soldiers has established its
stronghold at Huay Hung, opposite Mae Ai district in Chiang Mai. 

Sornsit Saengprasert, the Narcotics Control Board deputy
secretary-general, told the Bangkok Post in an exclusive interview that
Burma has recommended that the names of big-time drug suspects be spelt
in Chinese instead of English for easy identification.

The matter was raised during a recent meeting on narcotic eradication in
Burma attended by representatives from Burma, Thailand and the United

Mr Sornsit said it was not the suppression operation that was the
obstacle but rather the spelling that has made capture a daunting task.

He explained since the drug suspects come from different ethnic groups,
the authorities of Thailand and Burma tend to identify them using English

Relying on pronunciations, the names are often written differently in
English depending on how they are said and heard. The result was that a
suspect is referred to by more than one name which easily creates a
misunderstanding for the two countries.

Burma felt identification would be more accurate if the names were
written in Chinese since the suspects had a Chinese name. This would help
ensure the two countries hunt the same person.

Mr Sornsit said Rangoon conceded that apart from Wei, it knew only a
handful of drug suspects on the Thai authorities' blacklist. Part of the
problem may be attributed to spelling.

Burma pledged to quickly arrest Wei and rewrite other names into Chinese
to better assist the investigation.

Burma also presented to the meeting the documented evidence and video
tape footage of its raids on two drug manufacturing factories. 

The United States has reportedly issued arrest warrants for Wei in June
last year along with two other suspected traffickers - Yan Wanhsuan, or
Lao Tai, a former close aide of Khun Sa, and Liu Seu-po, or Kamrat
Namsuwakon - on a charge of exporting narcotic drugs into that country.
Rewards were also offered for their capture.

The source said before the warrant was out, Wei had often crossed into
Chiang Mai to visit his two Thai wives living in Ai and Fang districts.

Meanwhile, an amphetamine-tablet compressing machine was seized in Chiang
Rai's Mai Sai district on Saturday as it was about to be smuggled into
the country.

The two men who brought in the Chinese-manufactured machine, which is
capable of producing up to 60,000 tablets per hour, escaped arrest.
Police also impounded machine spare parts which came with the delivery. 


<bold>Ship chases off attackers of two Thai fishing boats Burmese speed
boat fires on trawlers


A Chao Phraya naval ship was despatched yesterday to chase off two armed
boats, one of them identified as Burmese, which had opened fire on two
Thai trawlers off Ranong's coast.

Vice Adm Somphob Phuridej, commander of the Third Fleet, said a distress
call was received from Tuang Sap 9 fishing boat which reported being
pursued and fired upon by a Burmese-registered speed boat northwest of
Ranong's Koh Chang.

The Chao Phraya battle ship was then sent to the area, which borders on
overlapped maritime territory between Burma and Thailand.

By the time the ship arrived at the scene, another Burmese high-speed
boat had joined in the pursuit. The Thai naval vessel issued warnings to
the two boats which later retreated after briefly intruding into Thai
territorial waters.

In another incident, a small trawler was fired upon when it was chased by
a fully-armed fishing boat whose nationality was unknown six nautical
miles off Koh Payam, also in Ranong.

The shots fired from the boat wounded Somporn Kongchan, a trawler crew
member, while two of his colleagues escaped by jumping overboard.

The Chao Phraya came to the rescue, but not before the boat sped off and
the injured crewman rushed to shore with the help of a passing trawler,
Porn Manachai.

Mr Somporn, who was wounded in the arm, was admitted to Kura Buri
Hospital and later discharged. 

Vice Adm Somphob stressed that the incidents which followed the December
and January clashes between Thai and Burmese boats were problems which
needed urgent government attention.

High-level talks with Burmese authorities must be held to settle
long-standing disputes stemming from overlapping territorial waters
between the two countries, he said.

Trawlers must be told strictly not to trespass into foreign territorial
waters and put up clear signs bearing the nationality to prevent
confusion which may lead to confrontation, he added.

The commander said it was possible the Thai trawlers were confused by the
unclear maritime demarcation and strayed into the overlapped area,
prompting the Burmese boat to be on their guard.

But if the friction persisted for much longer, it might develop into a
full-scale battle, he added.