[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index ][Thread Index ]

Burmese bandit a Bangkok folk hero

   South China Morning Post

  May 27, 2001

HEADLINE: Burmese bandit a Bangkok folk hero

BYLINE: William Barnes

Shan guerilla leader Yot Serk - a drug bandit according to Burma's military 
- is rapidly gaining a reputation as a folk hero in Thailand where, until 
recently, few people would have heard of this self-styled freedom fighter, 
even after he branched out on an anti-drug campaign.

The reigniting of anti-Burmese nationalism in Thailand, fuelled by anger 
over the wave of drugs pouring across the border, has thrown the spotlight 
on this hitherto obscure figure.

A man who sprang from humble origins inside the Shan state to command 
perhaps the most vigorous armed rebellion against the junta's mighty army 
is "a genuine hero" in the eyes of Thailand's most popular folk singer, 
known as Ad Carabao.

Thailand's "Bob Dylan" sent him 50 cases of beer for last Monday's Shan 
national day celebrations at his headquarters near the Thai border in Mae 
Hong Song province.

Thai TV producer Noppon Komarachoon made it to the national day shindig, 
along with his actress girlfriend and a noted songwriter. Noppon said he 
plans to base a new TV series around the "heroic" struggle of a Yot 
Serk-like character.

Senior Thai generals - who used to be circumspect in supporting Burmese 
rebels - have lately been praising "our friend" Yot Serk for smashing drug 
factories near the border.

Shan and Thais are ethnic cousins with a similar language and have found it 
easy to take the same side in confronting the prickly Burmese. Thais at 
every level claim to distrust ordinary Burmese. This may be partly because 
they are often poor and desperate foragers in the big underground economy.

But the Burmese are old enemies who are still bitterly blamed in Thai 
history books for destroying the old royal capital at Ayuddhya. A new film 
of the doomed heroics of a Thai village that tried to fight off invading 
Burmese 250 years ago, Bang Rajan, has been playing to packed houses.

The Burmese in turn habitually complain that the Thais are "slippery 
hypocrites". So when drug producers in the Shan state turned their hand in 
the 1990s to making amphetamines - or "crazy drug" as the Thais call it - 
to sell into Thailand and the rest of Asia, history had primed the two 
countries nicely for a confrontation.

In February, the two sides fought a half-day border war around the northern 
Thai trading town of Mae Sai after Burmese infantry tried to cross through 
Thai territory to attack one of Yot Serk's units. More recently, the Thais 
shelled and strafed (at least according to the Burmese) a disputed hilltop. 
Just last week the Thais said the old enemy had shelled a royal-sponsored 
agriculture project on the border in a "deliberate act of provocation".

Yot Serk's Shan State Army has in some ways become the sharp spear of a 
frustrated Thai military seemingly unable to neutralise the traffickers who 
are blamed for devastating Thai society with hundreds of millions of 
amphetamine tablets.

If in the past he was tainted by his association with the notorious, now 
"retired" drug warlord Khun Sa, this is largely forgotten.

What Thailand has not done, however, is offer support except in the most 
general way to the ethnic peoples who claim to suffer great hardship under 
the Burmese. Yot Serk may be a "hero" in the eyes of some Thais, but that 
does not stop the authorities pushing refugees back across the border. Nor 
are they keen on blocking businessmen jockeying to do deals in Burma.