[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index
Burmese bandit a Bangkok folk hero
- Subject: Burmese bandit a Bangkok folk hero
- From: darnott@xxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Sun, 27 May 2001 07:30:00
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
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
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.