Khun Sa

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Khun Sa
Khun Sa (cropped).jpg
Khun Sa at his jungle headquarters in Myanmar (Burma), 1988
Native name Burmese: ခွန်ဆာ
simplified Chinese: 张奇夫; traditional Chinese: 張奇夫; pinyin: Zhāng Qífū; Wade–Giles: Chang Chi-fu
Birth name Sai Sa
Other name(s) Thai: จันทร์ จางตระกูล; RTGSChan Changtrakul; Tun Sa; U Htet Aung
Born 17 February 1934
Loi Maw, Mongyai, British Burma
Died 26 October 2007 (2007-10-27) (aged 73)
Yangon, Myanmar
Buried Yayway Cemetery, Yangon
Allegiance Mong Tai Army
Shan United Revolutionary Army
Years of service 1985 (1985)–1996 (1996)
Rank Commander-in-chief
Battles/wars Internal conflict in Myanmar
Other work Shan warlord
Khun Sa pictured for the 1974 documentary The Opium Warlords by Adrian Cowell

Khun Sa (Burmese: ခွန်ဆာ, pronounced [kʰʊ̀ɴ sʰà]) (17 February 1934 – 26 October 2007), was a Shan warlord. Before he assumed the name "Khun Sa" in 1976, he was known primarily by his Chinese name, Zhang Qifu (張奇夫). He was born in Hpa Hpeung village, in the Loi Maw ward of Mongyai, Northern Shan State, Burma.[1]

He was dubbed the "Opium King" in Myanmar due to his massive opium smuggling operations in the Golden Triangle. He was commander-in-chief of the Mong Tai Army from 1985 to 1996 and the Shan United Revolutionary Army in 1996.

Biography

Early life

Khun Sa's forces at Ner Mone, Shan State, 1990.

Khun Sa was born to a Chinese father and a Shan mother. For the first forty years of his life he was primarily known by his Chinese name, "Zhang Qifu". When he was three years old, his father died. His mother married a local tax collector, but two years later she died as well.[2] He was raised largely by his Chinese grandfather, who was the headman of the village in which he was born, Loi Maw. [3]

Although his stepbrothers were sent to missionary schools, the only formal education that Khun Sa received was as a boy, when he spent a few years as a Buddhist novitiate, and for the rest of his life he remained functionally illiterate.[2] In the early 1950s he received some basic military training from the Kuomintang, which had fled into the border regions of Burma from Yunnan upon its defeat in the Chinese Civil War in 1949. He formed his first independent band of young men when he was sixteen,[2] and when his organization grew to several hundred men he became independent of the Kuomintang.[4] After establishing his independence he frequently switched sides between the government and various rebel armies, as the situation suited him.[3]

In 1963 he re-formed his army into a local "Ka Kwe Ye" ("Home guard") unit, under the control of the northeast command of the Burmese army, which was based in nearby Lashio. In return for fighting local Shan rebels, the government allowed him to use their land and roads to grow and trade opium and heroin.[3] By allowing them to be financed by opium production, the Burmese government hoped that these local militia units could be self-supporting. Unfortunately, many government-supported warlords, including Khun Sa, used their profits from the opium trade to buy large supplies of military equipment from the black markets in Laos and Thailand, and were soon better equipped than the Burmese army.[2]

Throughout the rest of the 1960s Khun Sa was one of Burma's most notorious drug traffickers.[5] He challenged the local dominance of the Kuomintang remnants in Shan State, but in 1967 he was decisively defeated in a battle involving both the Kuomintang and the Laotian army on the Thai-Burma-Laos border. In that battle he led a convoy of 500 men and 300 mules into Laos, but the convoy was ambushed by Kuomintang forces en route. As the battle was going on, the Laotian army (which was also involved the opium/heroin trade) bombed the battleground and stole the opium.[6] This defeat demoralized him and his forces.[7] The Laotian army continued to ambush his mule trains for the next few years,[5] and his military strength declined.[7]

In 1969 he went in person to meet with a group of Shan rebels, perhaps to change sides and join them, but Burmese government forces captured him. After his capture he was charged with high treason for attempting to contact the rebels (but not for drug trafficking, which he had government permission to do), and he was imprisoned in Mandalay. His more loyal followers went underground, and in 1973 abducted two Soviet doctors from a hospital in Taunggyi, where they had been working. A division of soldiers from the Burmese army were tasked with rescuing the doctors, but failed. The doctors were ransomed for Khun Sa's freedom (secretly brokered by Thai General Kriangsak Chomanan), and he was subsequently released in 1974.[8]

Later life

During the next two decades, from 1974-1994, Khun Sa became the dominant opium warlord in the Golden Triangle|. The share of heroin sold in New York originating from the Golden Triangle rose from 5% to 80% during this period, and Khun Sa was responsible for 45% of that trade. The DEA assessed that Khun Sa's heroin was 90% pure, "the best in the business". [5] During the height of his power, in the 1980s, Khun Sa controlled 70% of the opium production in Burma, and built a large-scale infrastructure of heroin refining factories to dominate the market for that drug.[4] He commanded 20,000 men, and his personal army was better armed than the Burmese military. His notoriety led the American government to put a $2 million bounty on him.[5] The American diplomat to Thailand referred to him as "the worst enemy the world has".[8]

After his release Khun Sa went underground, and in 1976 rejoined and reformed his forces in Ban Hin Taek, in northern Thailand, close to the border with Burma. After his release he adopted the Shan name "Khun Sa"[9] (literally "Prince Prosperous")[5] for the first time. He renamed his group the "Shan United Army", began to claim that he was fighting for Shan autonomy against the Burmese government,[9] and told international reporters that his people only grew drugs to pay for clothes and food. In 1977 he offered to take his territory's entire opium crop off the black market by selling it to the American government, but his offer was rejected.[5]

In October 1981 a 39-man unit of Thai Rangers and Burmese guerrillas attempted to assassinate Khun Sa at the insistence of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.[10] The attempt failed,[11] however in January 1982 a Thai Ranger squad from Pak Thong Chai, together with units from the Border Patrol Police and the Royal Thai Army, was used to force Khun Sa to move his headquarters from Ban Hin Taek across the border into Myanmar.[12]

Following his return to Burma, he relocated his base of operations to the border town of Homein, established a local heroin-refining industry, and resumed a working relationship with the Burmese military and intelligence services. He maintained a cordial relationship with the highest-ranking Burmese general in the region, Maung Aye. He entertained and established relationships with many foreign socialites and business people including, allegedly, Ross Perot. In 1984 his forces bombed the fortified residence of his rival, Li Wenhua, in Chiang Mai.[13] His organization maintained a trade organization in the government-held city of Taunggyi.[8]

In 1985, Khun Sa merged his Shan United Army with another rebel group, the "Tai Revolutionary Council" of Moh Heng—a faction of the Shan United Revolutionary Army (SURA), forming the Mong Tai Army (MTA). Through that alliance he both gained control of the whole Thai-Burma border area from his base at Ho Mong, a village near Mae Hong Son, to Mae Sai, becoming one of the principal figures in opium smuggling in the Golden Triangle.[14]

A Panthay Chinese Muslim from Burma, Ma Zhengwen, assisted Khun Sa in selling his heroin in north Thailand.[15]

In 1988, Khun Sa was interviewed by Australian journalist Stephen Rice, who had crossed the border from Thailand into Burma illegally. Khun Sa offered to sell his entire heroin crop to the Australian Government for A$50m a year for the next eight years, a move that would have virtually stopped the heroin trade into both Australia and the United States overnight. The Australian Government rejected the offer, with Senator Gareth Evans declaring: "The Australian Government is simply not in the business of paying criminals to refrain from criminal activity."[16] In 1989, Khun Sa was charged by a New York court for trying to import 1,000 tons of heroin.

Following his indictment, he was interviewed at his camp in Ner Mone, Shan State, by Canadian journalist Patricia Elliott, accompanied by photojournalist Subin Kheunkaew, for the Bangkok Post.[17] At the time he was acting as head of a coalition of Shan rebel forces, under the umbrella of the Muang Tai Army (MTA), a force he claimed consisted of 18,000 troops, a reserve of 5,000 and a local militia numbering 8,000.[18] At this time he named his price for opium eradication as US$210 million in UN assistance, US$265 million in foreign investment and US$89.5 million in private aid for a program of crop substitution, education and health care—an offer rejected as blackmail by US authorities.[19] Rather than accepting his offer, the American government placed a $2 million dollar bounty on him.[5]

Retirement and Death

Khun Sa exported his heroin through a network of underworld contacts and brokers based in Thailand, Yunnan, Macao, Hong Kong, and Singapore. Once he sold his products to these dealers, he had no control of where they were transported. Some of his business associates believed that he was only a front man for underworld Chinese drug interests, and many were terrified of him. By 1995 the DEA managed to discover and break the link between Khun Sa and his foreign brokers. Khun Sa's income then began to decline, and he began to consider retirement.[5]

In public the Burmese military claimed that they wanted to hang Khun Sa. They conducted small raids against him, and they carried out public bonfires of "heroin" (largely stones and grass). Despite the Burmese leadership's public attitude towards Khun Sa, they understood that he had long controlled Burma's most lucrative export crop, and by the 1990s he had co-opted many of the most high-ranking military leaders in the country. By 1996 they made a secret agreement for Khun Sa to surrender to the Burmese government, under the understanding that he would receive government protection and that he would not be extradited.[5]

Khun Sa surrendered to the Burmese government in January 1996, gave up control of his army, and moved to Rangoon with a large fortune[9] and four young Shan wives.[5] Following Khun Sa's surrender, opium production in the Golden Triangle declined[4] (this shift coincided with a dramatic rise in [[opium production in Afghanistan).[5] During his retirement he became a prominent local businessman, with investments in Yangon, Mandalay and Taunggyi.[9] After his retirement he described himself as "a commercial real estate agent with a foot in the construction industry". He notably ran a large ruby mine.[5] While living in Yangoon, Khun Sa maintained a low profile. His movements and communications with the outside world were restricted by the Burmese government, and his activities were monitored by Burmese intelligence.[2]

Following Khun Sa's retirement and the voluntary disbandment of his private army, many of his followers (who had believed that he was a Shan patriot) were devastated and refused to accept the ceasefire. They went underground and continued to fight the Burmese army under the name of the "Shan State Army (South)". The Burmese army somewhat disrupted the local opium trade, and the largest opium producer in the region became the United Wa State Army, another nominally independent ethnic rebel organization in northern Myanmar.[8]

Khun Sa died on 26 October 2007 in Yangon at the age of 73. The cause of death was not known, though he had suffered from diabetes, partial paralysis, high blood pressure,[20] and heart disease. He was cremated four days after his death.[4]He is buried at Yayway Cemetery, North Okkalapa, Yangon Division, Burma.[21]

Soon after he died, in November 2007, a memorial was held for him in Khun Sa's former stronghold in Thailand, Thoed Thai, close to the Myanmar border. Asked why they honored Khun Sa, the local people said that he helped the town to develop: he built the first paved roads in the area, the first school, and a well-equipped hospital[22] (staffed by Chinese doctors).[2] He also built a functional water and electrical infrastructure. The local Thai authorities ensured that the ceremony remained relatively simple.[22]

Family

He was married to Nan Kyayon (died 1993), with whom he had five sons and three daughters[8] (listed in order of birth): Nang Long (Khajit, ขจิต); Zarm Merng (Phajon ผจญ); Zarm Herng (Phathai, ไผท); Nang Kang (Khanittha, ขนิษฐา); Zarm Zeun (Phairote, ไพโรจน์); Zarm Myat (Phaisarn, ไพศาล); Nang Lek (n/a); and, Zarm Mya (Pitak, พิทักษ์).

As a reward for his retirement and relocation to Yangon, Khun Sa's children were allowed to run and operate business interests in Myanmar. At the time of his death, in 2007, his favourite son was running a hotel and casino in the border town of Tachilek, while one of his daughters was a well-established businesswoman in Mandalay.[8]

When he moved to Yangon he brought four young Shan mistresses with him.[8]

In media

Khun Sa was portrayed by actor Ric Young in the 2007 film, American Gangster.[23][24]

References

  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-08-27. Retrieved 2011-06-27. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f Lintner (2007) 1
  3. ^ a b c Lintner (1999) 525
  4. ^ a b c d Fuller
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l The Economist.
  6. ^ Lintner (2007) 1-2
  7. ^ a b Lintner (1999) 525-526
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Lintner (2007) 2
  9. ^ a b c d Lintner (1999) 526
  10. ^ John Hail, "Long and Hazardous Hunt for the Opium Warlord", Bangkok Post, January 11, 1982, p. 9.
  11. ^ Bertil Lintner, Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency since 1948, White Lotus Press, Bangkok, 1994, p. 262.
  12. ^ Pummarai Sumondis, Veera Prateepchaikul, Supradit kanwanich, "The Battle Against the Opium Warlord", Bangkok Post, 31 January 1982, pp. 20-21.
  13. ^ Lintner (1999) 508, 526
  14. ^ "Golden Triangle drug Lords: Khun Sa, Lo Hsing Han, Miss Hairy Legs and the Wa State Army". Facts and Details. Retrieved 26 May 2016. ; Bertil Lintner, in Asia Online; November 1, 2007
  15. ^ Bertil Lintner (1999). Burma in revolt: opium and insurgency since 1948. Asian Silkworm Press. p. 306. ISBN 974-7100-78-9. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  16. ^ "Questions Without Notice - Khun Sa: Heroin Supply". Senate Hansard. 26 April 1988. [not in citation given]
  17. ^ Elliott, P.W. "How 'Prince of Death' sees bright future for Shan". Bangkok Post. July 19, 1990, p. 8
  18. ^ P.W. Elliott, "Peaceful village home to liberation struggle". Bangkok Post. July 29, 1990, p. 8
  19. ^ Elliott, P.W., "A man who only wants the right to 'enjoy his own garden'...at a price". Bangkok Post, July 19, 1990, p. 9
  20. ^ "Notorious Asian drug lord is dead". BBC News. 30 October 2007. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  21. ^ cookie (4 November 2007). "Khun Sa". Find a Grave. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  22. ^ a b Unkovich and Early
  23. ^ LAmanager.com (2012). "Our Talent". LA Management. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  24. ^ Brian (14 July 2012). "The 20 Richest Drug Dealers of All Time". CELEBRITY NET WORTH. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 

Sources

  • "Khun Sa". The Economist. November 8, 2007. Retrieved January 13, 2018.
  • Fuller, Thomas. "Khun Sa, Golden Triangle Drug King, Dies at 73". New York Times. November 5, 2007. Retrieved January, 2018.
  • Lintner, Bertil. Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency Since 1948. Silkworm Books. 1999.
  • Lintner, Bertil. "Death of a Drug Lord". Asia Times Online. November 1, 2007. Retrieved January 14, 2018.
  • Unkovich, David and David Early. "'Prince of Death' Road Trip-Khun Sa Memorial". GT-Rider.com. November 7, 2007. Retrieved January 13, 2008.

External links

  • Obituary in The Times, 5 November 2007
  • Khun Sa: Opium Warlord (documentary) on YouTube
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