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
Chinese: 張奇夫
Birth name Sai Sa
Born 17 February 1934
Loi Maw, Mongyai, British Burma
Died 26 October 2007 (2007-10-27) (aged 73)
Yangon, Myanmar
Allegiance Mong Tai Army
Shan United Revolutionary Army
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]), also known as Chang Chi-fu (Chinese: 張奇夫[1]; pinyin: Zhāng Qífú; Thai: จันทร์ จางตระกูล; rtgsChan Changtrakul;[2] 17 February 1934 – 26 October 2007),[3][4] was a Shan warlord. He was born in Hpa Hpeung village, in the Loi Maw ward of Mongyai, British Burma.[5]

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.


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

Khun Sa was born to a Chinese father and a Shan mother. He adopted the pseudonym Khun Sa, meaning "Prince Prosperous". In his youth he trained with the Kuomintang, which fled into the border regions of Burma from Yunnan upon its defeat in the Chinese Civil War, and eventually went to form his own army of a few hundred men. In 1963 he re-formed it into a Ka Kwe Ye local militia loyal to Gen Ne Win's Burmese government. The Ka Kwe Ye received money, uniforms and weapons in return for fighting the Shan State Army.

He was married to Nan Kyayon (died 1993) whom he had eight children with (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)
  • Zarm Mya (Pitak; พิทักษ์)

When Khun Sa had expanded his army to 800 men, he stopped cooperating with the Burmese government, took control of large area in Shan and Wa states and expanded into opium production. In 1967 he clashed with the Kuomintang remnants in Shan State, which resulted in his defeat, demoralizing him and his forces. In 1969, the Rangoon government captured him. He was freed in 1973 when his second-in-command abducted two Russian doctors and demanded his release. By 1976 he had returned to opium smuggling, and set up a base inside northern Thailand in the village of Ban Hin Taek. He renamed his group the Shan United Army and began ostensibly fighting for Shan autonomy against the Burmese government.

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.[6] The attempt failed,[7] 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.[8]

In 1985, Khun Sa joined forces with the Shan United Army (SUA) and 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.[9]

Over the two decades of his unrivalled dominance of the Shan state, from 1974 to 1994, the share of New York street heroin coming from the Golden Triangle—the northern parts of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos—rose from 5% to 80%. It was 90% pure, "the best in the business", according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. And Khun Sa, the DEA thought, had most of that trade.[10]

A Panthay Chinese Muslim from Burma, Ma Zhengwen, assisted Khun Sa in selling his heroin in north Thailand.[11]

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."[12]

In 1989, Khun Sa was charged by a New York court for trying to import 1,000 tons of heroin. By then he had proposed United States to buy his entire opium production or he would sell it on the international narcotics market.

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.[13] 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.[14] 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.[15]

It is claimed that Khun Sa surrendered to Burmese officials in January 1996, reportedly because he did not want to face drug smuggling charges in the USA. The US DEA had promised $2 million reward for his arrest. Khun Sa left the Shan States for Rangoon, but he was never arrested by the government. Burmese officials refused to extradite him, and he lived the rest of his life in the Rangoon area with significant investments in Yangon, Mandalay and Taunggyi.

In media

Khun Sa was portrayed by actor Ric Young in the 2007 film, American Gangster.[16][17]


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 and high blood pressure.[18] He is buried at Yayway Cemetery, North Okkalapa, Yangon Division, Burma.[19]


  1. ^ "Khun Sa's Decline (坤萨的没落)" (in Chinese). China Central Television. 2002-06-18. Retrieved 2006-12-02. 
  2. ^ ปิดตำนานขุนส่า ราชายาเสพติดโลก คนใกล้ชิดงงสาเหตุการตาย
  3. ^ Former Notorious Druglord Khun Sa Dies, Associated Press via Google News; retrieved 2007-10-30 Archived November 2, 2007, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ Federal Register/Vol. 65, No. 233/Monday, December 4, 2000/Rules and Regulations Vol. 65,No. 233, December 4, 2000
  5. ^
  6. ^ John Hail, "Long and Hazardous Hunt for the Opium Warlord", Bangkok Post, January 11, 1982, p. 9.
  7. ^ Bertil Lintner, Burma in Revolt: Opium and Insurgency since 1948, White Lotus Press, Bangkok, 1994, p. 262.
  8. ^ Pummarai Sumondis, Veera Prateepchaikul, Supradit kanwanich, "The Battle Against the Opium Warlord", Bangkok Post, 31 January 1982, pp. 20-21.
  9. ^ "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
  10. ^ Khun Sa, a drug warlord, The Economist, 8 November 2007; retrieved 2010-4-8
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ "Questions Without Notice - Khun Sa: Heroin Supply". Senate Hansard. 26 April 1988. [not in citation given]
  13. ^ Elliott, P.W. "How 'Prince of Death' sees bright future for Shan". Bangkok Post. July 19, 1990, p. 8
  14. ^ P.W. Elliott, "Peaceful village home to liberation struggle". Bangkok Post. July 29, 1990, p. 8
  15. ^ Elliott, P.W., "A man who only wants the right to 'enjoy his own garden' a price". Bangkok Post, July 19, 1990, p. 9
  16. ^ (2012). "Our Talent". LA Management. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  17. ^ Brian (14 July 2012). "The 20 Richest Drug Dealers of All Time". CELEBRITY NET WORTH. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  18. ^ "Notorious Asian drug lord is dead". BBC News. 30 October 2007. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  19. ^ cookie (4 November 2007). "Khun Sa". Find a Grave. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 

External links

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