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Date: Thu, 12 Jan 1995 22:53:36 -0600
Sender: Southeast Asia Discussion List <>
From: Cliff Sloane <cesloane@MAROON.TC.UMN.EDU>
Subject: Veteran Shan guerrilla fighter dies in Burma (fwd)

Subject: Veteran Shan guerrilla fighter dies in Burma
Copyright: 1995 by Reuters, R
Date: Mon, 9 Jan 95 20:10:18 PST

Veteran Shan guerrilla fighter dies in Burma

Reuter, 9 January 1995

BANGKOK, Thailand (Reuter) - Veteran Shan nationalist guerrilla leader Sai Lek has died in northeast Burma after a long illness, casting uncertainty over the merger of his own armed organization with that of opium warlord Khun Sa, guerrilla sources said Tuesday.

Sai Lek, who merged his Shan State Progress Party (SSPP) with Khun Sa's Mong Tai Army (MTA) last year, died Friday at Khun Sa's Ho Mong headquarters in Shan State as a result of blood poisoning.

"Sai Lek has been sick for some time and died last Friday,'' Kuensai Jaiyen, a close aide of Khun Sa, told Reuters by telephone.

His death was a severe blow to the Shan in their struggle for autonomy from Rangoon and to Khun Sa himself, other Shan guerrilla sources told Reuters.

"The death of Sai Lek has shattered Khun Sa's dream to clear his image as an opium warlord,'' one Shan source said.

Sai Lek, who was in his late 50's, was believed to have been designated by Khun Sa as a possible successor, and his death was felt equally by the MTA and SSPP, the Shan source said.

Khun Sa's success in winning over the SSPP was a big boost as Sai Lek and the SSPP were widely recognized and supported by the Shan people as true independence fighters.

"Sai Lek was very good as a tactician in mobile guerrilla warfare. He was the one that the Burmese were afraid of,'' a former Sai Lek comrade said.

In 1989 the SSPP split and one faction signed a cease-fire deal with the Rangoon junta leaving Sai Lek and the rump of the SSPP little choice but to join forces with Khun Sa, observers said.

Kuensai, playing down speculation that Khun Sa's position was now weaker, told Reuters: "Despite the death of Sai Lek the SSPP's soldiers are still fighting alongside us.''