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Addicted to drug-power politics
- Subject: Addicted to drug-power politics
- From: suriya@xxxxxxxxxxxx
- Date: Mon, 28 Jun 1999 19:19:00
June 28, 1999
PROFILE / WEI HSUEH-KANG
Addicted to drug-power politics
Practically his entire life has been spent engaged in questionable activities.
Washington would dearly love to get its hands on him to face drug smuggling
charges, but he's well within the security zone of the Shan hills.
It is unclear whether Wei Hsueh-kang of the United Wa State Army (UWSA), the
United States's most wanted drug baron from the Golden Triangle, is aware that
his 1993 indictment in New York is in jeopardy.
He might have been told by his contacts in the United States that a key
died recently (of confirmed natural causes) and a convicted drug trafficker
had agreed to testify against him in court in exchange for a reduced sentence
(under the US system of plea bargaining) has just completed his jail term and
was under no obligation to co-operate.
Yet, he might not know these things and might not even care since he withdrew
into the safety of the hills after his indictment, concentrating on the
expansion of his drug empire and on other businesses from bases in Lashio and
Pangsanh in Burma's eastern Shan state.
In any case, American authorities, clearly embarrassed by the turn of events
and those surrounding another major drug suspect (it was made public last week
that Thanong Siripreechapong, the first Thai politician and businessman
by the United States of drug trafficking and extradited to face charges
overseas, could go free this week because of a kickback received by an
customs official from a key informant in the case), are determined to bring
to justice one way or another.
The $2 million (74 million baht) reward offered by the US state department
year for information leading to his arrest remains in place.
And a few months ago, with the co-operation of Thai counterparts, they have
stepped up efforts to very quietly get their hands on Wei with the aim of
executing a 1993 verdict by the Thai Appeals Court sentencing him to death for
masterminding the shipment of 680kg of heroin in 1987.
Wei, arrested shortly after three people were caught off the coast of Chumpon
in 1987 in possession of the drug, was acquitted by the Criminal Court for
of evidence. The three others were found guilty; two were sentenced to life in
prison and the third to death.
The prosecution appealed and, two years into the proceedings, in 1990, Wei
sought and was granted bail. When the Appeals Court finally passed its verdict
in 1993, only Wei's lawyer was present.
Wei, whose Thai name is Prasit Chivinnitipanya, is the second of the three
notorious Wei brothers whose drug trafficking from the Golden Triangle dates
back several decades.
His childhood remains much of a mystery. According to the US state department,
Wei was born in 1952, but his Thai identification card, which he obtained when
he officially changed his Chinese citizenship to Thai in the early 1980s, says
What can be confirmed is that he was born in China's southern Yunnan province
and fled as a child with his parents and elder brother, Wei Hsueh-long, into
Shan state following the communist victory in 1949. The family settled in
Vingngun, a hilly town in what was then known as Wa state (now officially the
Wa region of Shan state). The younger brother, Wei Hsueh-yin, was born there.
An acquaintance said the parents, relatively wealthy from their small-scale
opium activities before fleeing Yunnan, were part of Chiang Kai-chek's Chinese
Nationalist Army (Kuomintang).
They continued to work with the Kuomintang from Vinggnun as the Central
Intelligence Agency and the nationalist government in Taipei regrouped
thousands of fleeing soldiers and anti-communist civilians who crossed into
Burma and Laos. Local ethnic fighters, including the Wa who were reputed to be
the fiercest in Burma, also were recruited.
The three Wei brothers did not officially join the Kuomintang (KMT) but were
connected to the CIA-KMT intelligence network during the 1960s-Vingngun was a
major CIA communications centre-while their parents were among those who
raise funds for the KMT by selling opium and they gathered intelligence to
complement American and Taipei support for military offensives to retake China
from Shan state.
Following repeated protests by Burma to the United Nations and a military
offensive by the Chinese People's Liberation Army against KMT positions inside
Shan state, the United States and Taipei were forced to remove their forces.
Most were evacuated through northern Thailand to Taiwan.
By the early 1970s, the Wei brothers had become a formidable team. They
understood the workings of the drug trade but, more importantly, they could
detect the winds of change, power play and shifting alliances in the hills of
Shan state. This continues to serve them well up till now.
The Wei brothers could tell that the remnants of the KMT, by then relocated to
Thailand and increasingly being drawn into Bangkok's war against Thai
communists, was a dying cause and no longer controlled the drug trade in the
Shan hills. They turned to the rising star of the time, Khun Sa of the Shan
United Army (SUA), and split amicably from Wa leader Ai Kyaw Hsu.
The acquaintance of Wei Hsueh-kang said the brothers joined the SUA around
in Ban Hin Taek (now Ban Therdthai in Chiang Rai's Mae Fah Luang district)
though Khun Sa was still in jail in Mandalay. They worked under his
chief-of-staff, Chang Shu-chuan, a former KMT intelligence officer and rose
quickly through the ranks of the SUA.
The brothers brought much needed skills to the organisation, according to a
former KMT soldier who knew them in Ban Hin Taek. "They quickly gained the
trust of Chang and other leaders," he said. "They knew the business well and
were hard working."
Perhaps they knew their trade too well, for in a couple of years the brothers
had amassed a fortune and Khun Sa, who was released from jail in 1976, knew
exactly what was breeding within his organisation.
Wei Hsueh-kang was jailed for embezzlement, though this charge was denied by
his acquaintance, and his two brothers were stripped of their rank.
But soon enough, Wei, who had established his own network within the SUA,
managed to escape and the three were re-united.
They headed for Tham Ngob, the headquarters of General Li Wenhuan, the former
commander of the KMT's Division 3 which stayed behind in Thailand. Gen Li had
known Khun Sa as a young man and had helped him start up his drug business,
according to his daughter, Chawiwan Chaisiri. After a year with Gen Lim, who
made use of the brothers' skills, they left.
According to the book Burma in Revolt by Bertil Lintner, the Wei brothers made
use of their old Wa contacts and bankrolled the build-up of the Wa National
Army (WNA) in the early 1980s. Working from the Thai-Shan border, they slowly
but surely expanded their drug empire.
Though Thai and American anti-narcotics authorities kept an eye on the
developments within the
WNA, their main focus was the charismatic half-Shan, half-Chinese Khun Sa.
In 1982, a major operation funded by the United States was launched to
Khun Sa's headquarters in Ban Hin Taek. The authorities continued to watch him
as he built up new operations in Homong, just across from Mae Hong Son's Muang
The Wei brothers' empire continued to expand almost unnoticed until Wei
Hsueh-kang's name hit the headlines for the first time in 1987 with the
of 680kg of heroin off the coast of Chumpon. He was then known by the Thai
name, Prasit sae Wei.
While he was in jail between 1987 and 1990, his two brothers went on with
business with an eye to Khun Sa's empire, said Wei Hsueh-kang's acquaintance.
In 1989, while his brother was still in jail, Wei Hsueh-long saw the
opportunity for further expansion with the break-up of the Communist Party of
Burma (BCP) and the formation of four separate ethnic groups, one of them
the United Wa State Party and Army.
A deal was quickly worked out whereby the Wei brothers would attract soldiers
to the UWSA while the UWSA/P could move south towards the Thai border,
eventually establishing what is now known as the UWSA southern military
The Burmese government backed the move and forged an unwritten deal with the
UWSA to bring down Khun Sa in exchange for territories held by the opium
The UWSA's dream came true in 1996 when Khun Sa was defeated.
Wei Hsueh-kang was appointed a member of the standing committee of the UWSP
that year. Both Thai and US anti-drug authorities agree that the UWSA are now
the undisputed drug leaders in the Golden Triangle.
The three brothers are believed to have lived separately in recent years for
security reasons and to better manage their businesses, both legal and
The brothers are well aware of UWSP and Burmese government policy,
celebrations marking the 10th anniversary of the founding of the party last
April, that all UWSA territory be free of illicit drugs by 2005.
While the announcement went almost unnoticed or was dismissed by most Western
observers, moves have taken place within the UWSA/P and Wei Hsueh-kang has
Last March his 361st Brigade based in Mong Yawn, opposite Ban San Ton Du in
Chiang Mai's Mae Ai district, was renamed the 47th Brigade. A month later, he
gave in to pressure from the UWSP in Pangsanh to relocate his forces to Ban
Hong, opposite Ban Therdthai, in an effort to clean up the image of UWSA
in Mong Yawn and to strengthen ties with Thailand.
It is difficult to predict the final chapter in the lives of Wei Hsueh-kang
The $2 million being offered by the United States for information leading to
his arrest is most attractive, but it is accepted within the drug world that
Wei recognises no borders when it comes to getting rid of his enemies. His
ruthlessness, intelligence and determination continue to make him the number
one enemy of those trying to stop the drug scourge.
Database 10 yrs
© Copyright The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 1999
Last Modified: Mon, Jun 28, 1999
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