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Laos hooked into Burmese heroin rac

Subject: Laos hooked into Burmese heroin rackets.

		Laos hooked into Burmese heroin rackets

	The enigmatic and poverty-stricken nation of Laos is becoming a 
new crossroads in the international heroin trade as corrupt Burmese army 
generals and Chinese gangsters cash in on the weakness of its nominally 
Marxist-Leninist government.

	Khun Sa, the ethnic Shan warlord and heroin trader who fought the 
Burmese troops for years, is now comfortably established in Rangoon, 
Western sources say.

	There he enjoys the compliance of senior army officers in running 
supply routes through the jungles of Laos and via remote border passes to 
the international drugs market.

	"Khun Sa is supposed to be retirement, but you can forget that," 
said an international expert on the heroin trade in Vientiane.

	The Laos Government's tiny anti-narcotis unit, set up with 
American help, recently discovered two heroin and amphetamine 
laboratories near the Burmese border, a sign that drug refining 
operations are expanding into Laos.

	The break-up of Khun Sa's tribal army into feuding factions has 
also split its distribution networks and sent brokers hunting for new 

	The result has been an epidemic of drug abuse in southern China - 
which even executions and purges seem unable to halt - and an outbreak of 
heroin addiction in Cambodia.

	Renewed evidence of involvement by the Burmese military in the 
enormous south-east Asian drug trade will provide Western countries with 
another reason to isolate its shadowy regime.

	Burma is now the world's leading producer of opium, the base for 
heroin, with an estimated annual output of 2600 tonnes.

	Laos produces only a fraction of that amount but is still the 
world's third largest opium producer after Burma and Afghanistan.

	Years of war in Indo-China, followed by dependence on Russia and 
Vietnam after 1975, have left Laos in abject poverty, virtually living on 
opium and foreign aid.
	The derisory slaries paid to soldiers and officers from the 
governments's all but empty treasury make courruption and collusion with 
opium and heroin traders inevitable. Per capita income is less than $400 
a year.

	In a subsistence agricultural economy too primitive to measure, 
opium is believed to be the country's biggest export earner.

	America and the United Nations are running sucessful programs in 
Laos to encourage the hill tribes to grow other cash crops, but these are 
limited in scope and funding.

	Although the United States Government is taking the leading role 
in urging Loas to crack down on opium, the trade results largely from its 
secret war in Laos between 1964 and 1973.

	Then the American air force dropped more bombs on the Ho Chi Minh 
trail in eastern Laos than fell on western Europe in World War II - an 
average of one load every eight minutes for nine years.

	This left Laos with the most unexploded ordinance of any country.

	The CIA also sponsored and organised Hmong hill tribemen to fight 
the communist Pathet Lao, funding covert operations through opium and 
heroin runs in Thailand, Burma and Laos.

	Today the Hmong and Mien tribes remain the main opium growers in 
Laos. Diplomats in Vientiane believe Lao exiles and fanatically 
anti-communist Thai business magnates are behind continued funds flowing 
to Hmong insurgents.

	The CIA long ago lost interest in Laos. Today there exists no 
military threat to the rather half-hearted "proletiane dictatorship" that 
holds sway over the charming streets of Vientiane, where most local 
enthusiasm is reserved for Buddhist worship at numerous temples.

	Bandits regularly attack traffic on the main route north from 
Vientiane to the second city of Luang Prabang.

	Opium poppies are cultivated in the hills around Luang Prabang, 
then brought by foot and pack animals to dealers.

	It is a system as simple as the old Ho Chi Minh trail - and no 
easier to defeat.

[The Sunday Times, By MICHAEL SHERIDAN in Vientiane, 5 November 1996].