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S.H.A.N : ON " THE HEROIN WARS"
S.H.A.N : ON "THE HEROIN WARS"
ON "THE HEROIN WARS"
BY SENG SUK
( S.H.A.N Editor's note : During the month of July, the latest documentary by
the wellknown film-journalist,Adrian Cowell, was broadcasted. This is the
commentary by Sao Seng Suk, ex-SSPP President and, at present, the co-ordinator
of the Shan State Organization.)
" It was a pool of guerrilla anarchy in which the forces of nationalism, feudal
regionalism, and narcotics ricocheted off each other in a series of
counter-reactions, but not in a national movement united in war of
This was an observation of Shan resistance written in the March/April issue of
Burma Debate by my friend, Adrian Cowell, whom I had taken into Shan State with
his friend, cameraman Christopher Mengis, to make the documentary film, " Opium
Warlord " . In fact, I had suggested to him to make this documentary film
about opium in Shan State to illustrate who grew the opium, what they got from
opium growing, their livelihood, who got the profits from opium, and how.
Adrian and I had a ten-point agreement. For the sake of operational security, on
the SSPP/SSA side the agreements were known only to me. Satarn Pairoh, a Thai
journalist employed by Adrian, was the only other person who knew about the
I agree with the first part of Adrian's observation but not the end in which he
said, " but not in a national movement united in a war of independence. " It is
a natural that a foreigner, not born as a Shan, would conclude in this way,
overlooking the historical, cultural, geographical, and social conditions of the
time. I would rather beg to differ and say that the Shans were totally united in
wanting independence and there was a national movement. All were fighting
against the Burmese military who were commiting aggression against the Shan
federation. It is the opium traders KMT remnants who dealt in opium,and their
affiliated drug gangs exploiting the Shan situation that confuses and blurs the
Shan resistance picturre for foreign observers.
I accept that Shan State politics were totally confusing to a foreigner who was
without good information about Khun Sa or who was rather insensitive to hints of
Khun sa's affiliation with General Ne Win. It was therefore not at all
surprising to read in his article " The Silver Jubilee of the War on Drugs," how
else could such completely contradictory policies as a Declaration of
Independence from Burma and a total surrender to the Burmese Army follow one
another within a couple of years - without the excuse of a military defeat?.
It was well known to the Shan State Organization's Coordination Committee,
Chiang Mai Branch, long before that khun Sa was going to surrender when the
war-office in Rangoon ordered him to do so at an appropriate time, chosen by the
Burmese military high command. I am sure it was also known to the late General
Korn Zurng before his death, because on his death bed when he was asked by Khun
Sa's men to appoint an heir to the SSRC leadership, hoping that he would appoint
Khun Sa, Korn Zurng refused and instructed an 11 member committee to be elected
among the MTA to take over the leadership instead.This meant that quite a large
section of Shans who were in the middle level leadership of the
SSRC/MTA were well aware of the links between Khun Sa and Rangoon. The
ruthlessness of Khun Sa and Chang Shu Shin combined with huge amounts of money
needed to maintain the MTA forces were factors that made the genuine Shan
nationalists bide their time. This situation forced " hopeful leaders" such as
Khern Hsai, Seng Tzin, and others to wait until Khun Sa's surrernder before
forming their own group, Shan United Revolutionary Army. Only Gun Yod ( Kan Yhot
as Adrian spells it ), who was faced with extermination by Khun Sa's trusted
officer, Colonel Yeap Mong ( Chinese name Lao Kweng ) did not join SURA. If Gun
Yod had not left MTA, I am sure Gun Yod would be dead. Gun Yod's assistant
commander was murdered by Colonel Yeap Mong, forcing Gun Yod to leave MTA. It
was not a mutiny planned by Gun Yod. On the contrary, it could have been planned
by Chang Shu Shin and Khun Sa with
the aim of regaining trust and favour from the war-office in Rangoon. Khun Sa
made a mistake in attacking the SLORC's military garrison at Mong Kyawt
resulting in high casualties on both sides, adding more suspicions to his
sincerity by more suspicions was directly due to orders by Khun Sa himself.
For example :
Order No. 1 : Not a bullet must be fired against Burma Army west of the Salween.
In fact, the MTA forces west of the Salween had surrounded Nam Sang - the
SLORC's air base - in southern Shan State and could attack and occupy the base,
Mong nai, and other important southern towns.
Order No. 2 : No attack against Mong Pyak and Keng Tung.
This order was given when MTA forces were ready to attack and occupy Mong Pyak
and Keng Tung.
Burma Army's reaction was very surprising. Their counter offensive avoided
direct assault on Ho Mong, the headquarters of Khun Sa, when air strikes against
Ho Mong could havecrippled MTA militarily and psycologically.
He made this gamble because he was quite inflated by Advisor to President Carter
on Drugs Policy, Dr. Peter Borne's visit to him at Ho Mong thinking that the
U.S. would pour military as militarily. But, the overall result was contrary to
his expectations. U.S. pressure mounted, and the closure of Thai-Shan State
border by the Thai government resulted. Hence, the final decision of the
war-office in Rangoon was to order him to surrender in October 1995. After that,
all secret preparations between Khun Sa and Rangoon were made and the final
surrender of MTA actually came in January 1996.
Although I strongly agree with Adrian Cowell on his observation about American
policy on drugs in Shan State, I have a completely different point of view
concerning opium warlords such as Khun Sa and Chang Shu Shin. Warlords are
warlords -- ruthless, opportunistic, dictatorial, and above all, cowards. It is
a great mistake to identify them as revolutionaries or nationalists waging a war
Returning to opium, the American policy as Adrian Cowell stated, " to attack the
source of supply
( rather ) than to deal with the sources of demand " was a very wise policy for
the American imperialists -- the policy makers -- because this would ensure
funds from the American public, without the American people realising that it
would be more expensive in the long run, in fact draining the taxpayer's money.
It would not reduce the opium crop and would enable the powers that be in
America to use a " big stick big carrot " position around the world into future
decades. Unless, of course, the American taxpayers realise the futility of their
government's policy and start to divert the drug enforcement funds into their
own special needs, such as education, prevention of drug addiction,
rehabilitation and so on, and pressure their government to change its policy on
drug to a more realistic and responsible one, the present, out-dated, dogmatic
policy will not change.
Nevertheless, I would like to thank my esteemed friend, Adrian Cowell, for
opening the debate as he did, and it is my great pleasure to participate in this
debate as the problem of opium and heroin directly affect all aspects of life of
all the people of Shan State in a negative way.
In the same issue of Burma Debate, Sao Maha Sang ( the correct pronunciation by
Shan and Wa - not Maha San as pronounced by the Bamah group ) has stated the
simple general desire of the people of the Shan State concerning opium and the
rights of indigenous ethnic groups of Shan State and the most important factor -
GENUINE PEACE. He pointed out that the cease fire achieved by SLORC is fragile
and unrealistic to achieve lasting peace because it simply lacked political
agreement which is the very foundation of all the trouble in the Union of Burma.
Whatever subjuct one touches in internal affairs of Burma, one can never
conclude anything without touching on her external affairs, which directly and
indirectly affect Burma enormously. These external factors, way above the heads
of the people of the Union of Burma, are mainly the policy of the Peoples'
Socialist Republic of China towards Burma, the " constructive engagement "
policy of ASEAN, and the U.S. narcotic policy. These policies in a sense
directly interfere in the internal affairs of the Union of Burma because they
directly recognise SLORC and eliminate conditions for peaceful political change
or settlement. Other governments' policies towards the Union of Burma,
especially their trade and investment policies, indirectly interfere in the
internal affairs, the same as above, although their interest vary.
China sells weapons and gives financial aid to SLORC. ASEAN's constructive
engagement policy is strictly limited to investment for quick profit return and
the inconsiderate exploitation of natural resources of the Union of Burma. These
resources actually belong to other indigenous ethnic groups rather than the
Bamah group. ASEAN practices non-interference in the international affairs of
SLORC which are not necessarily the internal affairs of the Union of Burma. The
U.S. policy of Narcotic Controls is financed only through the illegitimate SLORC
government. All the above precipitate into eliminating possibilities for
peaceful political dialogue or settlement.