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Date: Mon, 23 Jan 1995 21:16:42 -0800 (PST)
Message-ID: <APC&1'0'776977b4'> Received: (from strider) by (8.6.9/Revision: 1.5 ) id VAA16654; Mon, 23 Jan 1995 21:16:29 -0800
Date: Mon, 23 Jan 1995 21:16:29 -0800

The BurmaNet News: Monday, January 23, 1995
Issue #99

Special army force tightens noose on Khun Sa's empire

By Korkhet Chantalertluk, Nation (Bangkok daily), 13 January 1995

THE THAI army has tightened the noose on the notorious empire of drug warlord Khun Sa thanks to the work of a special force set up last October.

The so-called Naresuan Force, formed under the auspices of the army's Third Region Command on Oct 1, is said to be the most aggressive measure taken so far by the government against the head of the self-styled Shan State and marks a distinct hardening of Thai attitudes.

It follows on from the recent joint Thai-US police crackdown that reportedly crippled Khun Sa's Thai network.

The Naresuan Force, based in the Mae Rim district of Chiang Mai, patrols a 500- kilometre stretch of the Thai-Burmese border from Mae Hong Son's Muang district to Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai.

Headed by Lt Gen Thanom Watcharaput, the force is designed to clamp down on cross-border movement of narcotics, weapons, food and logistical supplies to and from Khun Sa's Mong Tai Army (MTA).

The Naresuan Force's range of operation covers areas opposite Burma's northeastern Shan Sate especially in the territory controlled by the MTA. The largely ethnic Shan Force has been fighting the decades-long guerrilla war with the Rangoon government.

"The MTA controls the southern part of Shan State which forms part of the so-called Golden Triangle -- an area straddling the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos. The Golden Triangle supplies much of the world's opium and heroin to international markets.

Khun Sa, 60, is of mixed Chinese and Shan decent. He is said to command a force of about 20,000 ethnic Shan and has been conducting a sporadic, decades-long g uerrilla war with the Rangoon government.

However, anti-narcotics agencies claim the MTA is more akin to a private army used by Khun Sa to safeguard his lucrative opium business than any force of idealistic separatists engaged in a struggle to obtain independence for ethnic Shan people.

The formation of the Naresuan Force is one of the more visible results of a more determined stance by the Thai government to resolve long-standing problems occurring along its shared border with Burma -- problems that include illegal trafficking in drug and war weapons, cross-border raids and the influx of illegal immigrants.

According to information released by the Third Region Command, the government has drawn up a revised policy on national security in relation to Burma. The 1994-1996 policy has four main objectives.

"At first the army -- which was aiming to reduce the number of personnel -- did not approve of the force's formation," a senior official of the Naresuan Force said. "However, after being told about the need, the army endorsed the Third Region Command's proposal."

The army's concern over contraband trade along the Thai-Burmese border and freq uent battles between Rangoon soldiers and minority forces also contributed to t he need for the setting up of the Naresuan Force.

The formation of the force was seen as a serious attempt by the government to put pressure on Khun Sa. The force aimed to block drug trafficking into Thailand as well as the chemicals used for producing drug, food and medical supplies, and the arms trade.

The powerful Burmese junta leader, Lt Gen Khin Nyunt, secretary of the Burmese State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), said last week Khun Sa and his army must be completely uprooted.

Last year the Third Region Command decided to close down all border checkpoints in Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai provinces, effectively curtailing food supplies and basic daily necessities heading towards Khun Sa's area. However, villagers were allowed to carry necessities into Burma for "humanitarian reasons". However, recent press reports said that the Third Region Command failed to comp ly with a directive two months ago by National Security Council (NSC) which demanded an "easing" of a regulations banning transport of food supplies into the Khun Sa-controlled area.

A high-ranking official in the Third Region Command rejected the reports as gro undless. He said that neither the premier nor the NSC had instructed an easing of the rules concerning Khun Sa's forces.

"The NSC merely said that the prime minister had instructed the Third Region Command to open new checkpoints to promote lawful trade along the borders. The command has cooperated with provincial authorities," the official said.

"We recently opened a new trading spot in Mae Hong Son's Khun Yuam district, an d will soon open another in Chiang Mai's Chiang Dao district."

However, there were reports that some officials at the Third Region Command were uneasy over an "unclear directive".

"[In certain spots] there are problems about drugs, arms trade and security. The Burmese [government] forces could raid Khun Sa forces [near the Thai border] at any time. So how could we open checkpoints for the border trade," a source in the Third Region Command said.

In late November, Thai anti-narcotics police in cooperation with the US drug en forcement agencies arrested 10 of Khun Sa's leading "lieutenants".

"Their key men later approached the Third Region Command and asked us to negotiate with police for the release of their men. But we rejected their plea, and t old them to go back, otherwise we would also arrest them for illegally entering Thailand," the source said.

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