CHIANGRAI NEWS – The new, vicious drug war in the North makes it clear that Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has much more business to attend to than she had time for last week. The deaths of 12 or more innocent people, and the fear of honest people even to do business on the Mekong River are unacceptable. The Burmese military juntas have tolerated or acquiesced in the illicit drug business for far too long already. The weekend bloodshed showed that Burma is not even mildly serious about combating the savage drug gangs. Now that China has been dragged so brutally into the problem, the region must put far heavier pressure on Burma to clean up this problem.
The source of the violence in the North, and the root source of the drug abuse in Thailand are the same. Leaders of the United Wa State Army (UWSA) established an international criminal enterprise during the 1990s. They set up major drug-producing factories inside Burma. At first, their major target for drug peddling was Thailand, specifically young people in Thailand.
Over several years, the Wa leaders joined with criminals in Thailand to move their methamphetamines, and then with the Taiwan-based 14K triad to sell heroin for shipment further abroad.
More recently, the Wa have re-sited their drug factories from the Thai border region to a single location further north, closer to China.
According to Thai intelligence and anti-drug officials, the centre of illicit methamphetamine manufacturing is now at Pang Sang, southwest of Lashio in the Shan State. The city has long been the “safe house” for the corrupt Wa leadership, and the centre for the drug lords’ finances. Two big banks closely identified with the Southeast Asian illicit drug trade have major branches in Pang Sang.
The drug smuggling trail now reportedly starts in Pang Sang, and couriers move southeast towards Thailand. Authorities believe that a major casino opposite Chiang Sae district of Chiang Rai is a front and conduit for the smugglers.
Last week, in a daring and bloody operation to move a million or more speed tablets into Thailand, gang members hijacked two China-flagged ships on the Mekong River. They apparently killed all the crewmen, with 12 bodies washing up in or near Thailand. This major escalation must be stopped.
In 2000, the Wa strongman Pau Yu Chang promised Khin Nyunt, then a powerful member of the Burmese military junta, that he would end the drug trade by 2005.
Otherwise, he said infamously, “You can chop my head off”. It would be good to take up his offer, at least to the point of putting him under arrest. There are arrest warrants for him in Thailand and the United States. The US and Thai authorities also have warrants to arrest the Wa military leader Wei Hsueh-kang, and his corrupted Thai associate Surachai Ngernthongfu, alias Bang Ron, who has ruined the lives of thousands of his countrymen.
It would be an improvement to bring justice to these men and others. And good luck as well to the current drug crackdown under Ms Yingluck’s auspices. But for now, there is just one good solution. The new Burmese government can only be credible if it moves aggressively against the Pang Sang criminals and their drug factories, for a start. The very highest Thai and Chinese government leaders and diplomats must make this clear to Burma. The sooner the better.
United Wa State Army
The United Wa State Army (UWSA), is an ethnic insurgent army in eastern Burma which is composed of approximately 20,000 soldiers led by Pao Yu-hsiang (Bao Youxiang). While there is no recognized Wa State in Burma, the UWSA controls a semi-autonomous region (Special Region No. 2) pursuant to a signed agreement with the Government of Burma, which is occupied by ethnic Wa, Shan and other minorities. The UWSA is the military wing of the United Wa State Party (UWSP), and was formed from the remnants of the Burmese Communist Party (BCP) in 1989. The UWSA is an ethnic insurgent army financed almost exclusively by drug trafficking. The UWSA is the largest drug trafficking organization in Southeast Asia, producing heroin and methamphetamine for distribution throughout Southeast Asia and other countries.
During the Burma Army (BA) offensive against the Shan United Army (SUA) or Mong Tai Army (MTA) in 1994 and 1995, the UWSA aligned with the BA and was instrumental in defeating the SUA. As a result, the UWSA also gained control over additional territory adjacent to the border of Thailand. Following the SUA’s surrender, the BA ordered the UWSA to vacate the region. The UWSA defied the order and currently occupies the area referred to as the UWSA’s Southern Military Region (SMR) or Southern Military Command. The SMR headquartered at Wanhong in Monghsat Township. The Northern Command is located in Panghsang, Burma, under the control of the UWSA’s Commander-in-Chief, Pao Yu-hsiang (Bao You xiang). The UWSA has five “Brigades” deployed along the Thai-Burma border, and three “Brigades” deployed along the China-Burma border.
Within their semi-autonomous region, the UWSA controls the cultivation, taxing, collection, and transportation of opium; heroin processing, production and sales; methamphetamine production and sales; as well as the transportation of heroin and methamphetamine to traffickers in Thailand and China. Other independent heroin and methamphetamine trafficking organizations operating within UWSA-controlled areas also receive authorization from the UWSA to produce and traffic in drugs, and are also taxed by the UWSA. The UWSA has drug transportation and distribution networks throughout Thailand, China, Cambodia, Laos, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and numerous other countries.
During the 1990’s, the United States government identified Wei Hsueh-kang, and his brothers Wei Hsueh-lung, and Wei Hsueh-ying, as significant heroin traffickers associated with the Shan United Army (Mong Tai Army); this organization was smuggling large quantities of heroin to the United States. Wei Hsueh-kang, and several of his associates, were indicted by the Eastern District of New York in 1993, for violations of the United States Controlled Substances Act. Concurrently, WEI Hsueh-kang was charged and arrested in Thailand for drug trafficking, but subsequently fled to Burma. The Government of Thailand later convicted WEI in absentia and sentenced him to death.
In 1989, after defecting from the SUA, WEI Hsueh-kang joined members of the former BCP, such as Pao Yu Hsiang, Pao Yu Yi, et.al., and helped create and finance the UWSA. The UWSA’s significant military capabilities are financed by the narcotics trade. In May 2003, The United States Government indicted WEI and several ranking members of the UWSA for their involvement in narcotics trafficking. Wei Hsueh-kang and several UWSA officials are currently fugitives in the United States and in Thailand.
Wei Hsueh-kang and his brothers, as well as other leaders of the UWSA, have amassed great wealth throughout the years by growing, collecting, and taxing opium, producing heroin and methamphetamine, and trafficking in these drugs. The Wei brothers have invested large sums of money in the infrastructure and development of Panghsang, Mong Yawn, Mandalay, and Rangoon, Burma, and other cities throughout Southeast Asia. A substantial proportion of the UWSA’s drug profits have been reinvested into expanding UWSA military capabilities and areas of operation. Several ethnic and village militias also support the UWSA, making it a formidable insurgent force within Burma.