LORD OF THE GOLDEN TRIANGLE DIES IN RANGOON
From Andrew Drummond,
Once dubbed the 'Prince of Death' and accused of being the world's most prolific heroin trafficker, Khun Sa, also known as Chan Chi-Fu, was cremated yesterday in Rangoon, Burma, aged 74.
Khun Sa preferred to be known as 'Prince of Prosperity' or 'Lord of the Golden Triangle' after the area encompassing parts of Burma, Laos and Thailand, which once produced most of the world's heroin.
Since 1996 however he has enjoyed the patronage of the Burmese military government after striking a deal with the country's generals.
Before that he lorded over the Shan States of Burma with his Mong Tai Army and supervised the heroin mule trains heading south over the Thai border with their heroin destined for Europe and New York.
He claimed his army was an independence army fighting for the freedom of the Shan States, which the British promised at the Panglong Agreement in 1947.
He however forgot about the cause and after cutting his deal went to live in Rangoon where he ran bus and property companies. Most of his soldiers are fighting on under the name Shan State Army.
In retirement under the patronage of the military junta he joined Lo Sing Han, another veteran opium trafficker who became a wealthy Rangoon businessmen who owns among other thing the city's 'Traders Hotel' where journalists were holed up during the recent troubles.
But while the military junta publicly burns heroin every year for international observers, the Burmese army is reportedly active in claiming the revenues from the heroin and also from a massive production of met-amphetamines which crosses the border from Thailand. Khun Sa's eldest son is believed to have taken over part of the trade.
The politics of heroin in the Golden Triangle was the source of great mirth for Khun Sa, who frequently infuriated the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and poked fun at both the Thai and Burmese governments.
I lived in his camp while making the television documentary 'Lord of the Golden Triangle' (Observer/Granada TV).
I arrived in the middle of the night by mule and heard the commotion in his camp long before I saw it.
Khun Sa had organised a disco dance for his troops and the jungle was alive to Manfred Mann's number 'Do Wah Diddy Diddy'.
He had frequent visits from Thai military and Thai border police all wanting a slice of the cake, while making public statements across the border that he was 'The world's most wanted man' and they were hunting him down.
He told meat the time: 'Today's friend could be tomorrow's enemy. Today's enemy could be tomorrow's friend. When the DEA gives the Thais money they come and attack me. When I give them money they go away again,' he said bursting into laughter and almost falling back over his chair.
The camp itself at Homong, across from the Thai town of Mae Hong Son was a veritable metropolis, with bars, cinemas, brothels, satellite television. Khun Sa even claimed to have Sam missiles. He regarded himself as a benevolent despot but was both a giver and a taker.
On one of his trips around town he stopped at a house where the family had a 17-yr-old daughter. He asked me to wait outside with his guards, armed with M16, after entering a room alone with the girl, emerging after an hour.
He had an army of 10,000. He claimed he only taxed the heroin which was transported out of his area and had no hand in its production. Nevertheless he threw lavish parties for the farmers and village elders.
Every year Khun Sa would make an offer to the United States. 'If you buy the heroin I can stop the trade and make farmers cultivate something else.'
Every year his offer was turned down. Glennon Cooper, the DEA chief in Bangkok said: 'Khun Sa is a ruthless criminal who is probably the largest heroin trafficker in the world. He plays all sides against the middle.'
Of the allegations that Khun Sa was in cohoots with Thai military Cooper said: 'We not about to voluntarily embarrass our hosts.'
Khun Sa's father was a former soldier with the Kuomintang Army which was stranded in north Burma at the end of the Second World War. His married a Shan Princess and became an local administrator. One of Khun Sa's prize possessions was medal bearing the head of King George VI in recognition of his father's services to the Empire.
Up until the time of his death Khun Sa faced a charge in New York with importing 1,000 tons of heroin into the city.
He was cremated yesterday at Yay Way cemetery on the outskirts of Rangoon.
Andrew Drummond investigated Khun Sa and the politics of heroin for 'Lord of the Golden Triangle' and Observer/Granada Television production for the ITV network