No one is innocent in the war on drugs in Burma:
- The people because of their desperate need for survival
- The rebels to buy arms for the struggle against a tyrannical government
- The government and its armed forces for encouraging allies to be involved in the drug trade to fight against the resistance and for allowing their units to be involved so they could feed, clothe and equip themselves
The circle becomes complete when greedy financiers take advantage of the state of affairs to invest, produce and trade in drugs.
When Khun Sa (1934-2007) still enjoyed the graces of the country’s ruling military dictatorship as he was fighting against the Shan State Army (SSA) and the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), the financiers had flocked to him.
One of these tycoons was reported by James Mills in his The Underground Empire (1986). While Khun Sa was being dubbed a “King”, Lu Hsu-shui aka Vichien Wachirakaphan, a Thai of Chinese descendent, was the “King of Kings.” To him, Khun Sa was just “the ultimate source of supply.”
Even Khun Sa himself acknowledged the fact. He once told a meeting held at his Homong base: “I’m just a taxing king. The real traffic-kings are others.”
But as he became more vocal in politics against Rangoon (then Burma’s capital), the latter retaliated by withdrawing its support which was turned over to the Wa that was in fighting against him.
It was small wonder most of the financiers left him then to invest with the Wa, as it was safer to work with them and the returns were swift and high.
That was until 2005, when they were still fighting against Khun Sa and, after his surrender in 1996, against Yawdserk’s Shan State Army (SSA) “South”. During that year, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) decided there was no use fighting against somebody who was obviously not a rival as Khun Sa was and withdrew its troops from the fight.
The Wa insubordination was countered by seizure of a UWSA convoy escorting nearly half a ton of heroin in September that year. Ta Pan, leader of the convoy and nephew of Wa supreme leader Bao Youxiang, is reportedly still languishing in a Burmese jail.
Since then, the “license to deal” has been passed along to the People’s Militia Force (PMFs) that were set up by the Burma Army to assist in its operations against the rebels. As to be expected, more and more “Kings of Kings”, both native and alien, are transferring their investments to the PMFs.
Naw Kham, who was recently arrested in Laos and extradited to China, is one example. Many remember him as a lieutenant of Khun Sa, but little about his tenure as PMF leader that was longer than that with Khun Sa.
What has been said here is not meant to blame anyone involved, especially the rebels and the Burma Army. As the Palaung leader Ta Ai Phong says: Everyone who has a gun is involved.
The solution therefore should not be the Burma Army and ceasefire armies joining hands together against the PMFs, which will only result in financiers moving their investments to new armed groups politically in favor with Naypyitaw.
The obvious solution should be political: an agreement that ensures both the integrity of the nation and the “autonomy in internal administration” of the non-Burman ethnic nationalities that will put an end to strife and lawlessness in the country.
With such a political settlement, there will be no need for war and hence no need to have a huge army that has to look after itself by any means available. Neither will it need to have allies who are allowed to “live by their wits” to fight against rebels. And a country such as this will no longer need “Kings of Kings” and their kind of investments.
Unfortunately, the upcoming meeting between Naypyitaw and Loi Taileng, the headquarters of Shan State Army (SSA) “South”, is not expected to discuss any political settlement of the problem.
However, whatever they are going to do together, I hope they keep in mind that the ultimate solution is political, not eradication or spectacular seizures.
Until then, we shall need to remind ourselves, as the late Shan leader and scholar Chao Tzang Yawnghwe (1939-2004) once said, we are only putting out the smoke and not the fire.
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