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Posted: Oct 30 2007, 11:41 PM
Group: Friend of Ours
Member No.: 13
Joined: 8-April 06
October 30, 2007
Burma's 'Prince of Death' dies, aged 74
Philippe Naughton, and agencies in Bangkok
A former Burmese warlord once considered the world's biggest supplier of heroin has died in Rangoon, where he reportedly lived out his old age in luxury after striking a deal with the military junta guaranteeing his protection.
Khun Sa called himself a freedom fighter, spending almost four decades battling for the autonomy of the ethnic Shan people. But he used his Shan guerrilla army and millions in drug receipts to carve out a virtual kingdom complete with schools, satellite television and surface-to-air missiles in the opium-producing Golden Triangle region where Burma, Thailand and Laos meet.
Khuensai Jaiyen, Khun Sa's former secretary, said that the former warlord died on Friday, aged 74.
“He was a man with lofty ideals. He thought of becoming the liberator of Shan State,” Mr Khuensai told Reuters. “But when the people he was supposed to be leading or liberating didn’t accept his leadership, he turned his back on them.”
A Burmese official confirmed the warlord's death and said that he was cremated in Rangoon this morning.
The cause of death was not immediately known, but Khun Sa had long suffered from diabetes, partial paralysis and high blood pressure.
Khun Sa had lived in seclusion in Burma's biggest city since 1996, when he surrendered to the ruling military junta, which allowed him to run a string of businesses behind a veil of secrecy.
At the height of his notoriety, Khun Sa had had an estimated 25,000 men under his command in the Shan United Army.
Narcotics agents around the world used terms like the 'Prince of Death' to describe him, and the United States offered a $2 million reward for his arrest. At one point, Washington estimated that up to 60 per cent of the heroin in the United States was refined from opium in his area.
In a 1996 interview with the US television network PBS, Donald Ferrarone, who headed the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration office in Bangkok from 1993 to 1995, described Khun Sa’s network as “an organisation that has enriched itself beyond anything we’d ever seen - an organisation that relied on violence and murders and assassinations and bribery to keep its whole infrastructure in place”.
But Khun Sa said of himself: “They say I have horns and fangs. Actually, I am a king without a crown."
Born Chang Chi-fu of a Chinese father and Shan mother on February 17, 1933, Khun Sa received little education but learned the ways of battle and opium from the Kuomintang, remnants of forces defeated by China’s communists and forced to flee into Myanmar.
By the early 1960s Khun Sa was already a major player in the Golden Triangle _ then the world’s major source for opium and its derivative, heroin.
He suffered a near knockout blow in the so-called 1967 Opium War, fighting a pitched battle with Kuomintang rivals in Laos. Laotian troops intervened by bombing both sides and making off with the opium.
For a time he served in a Burmese government militia, but was jailed in 1969 after allying himself with the Shan cause. He was freed five years later in exchange for two Russian doctors whom his followers had kidnapped.
Seeking a less hostile environment in Thailand, he set up a hilltop base protected by his troops. But when the Thais got too embarrassed having a drug kingpin on their soil, he was driven out in 1982 and lodged himself in Ho Mong, an idyllic valley near the Thai frontier inside Burma.
Khun Sa claimed he only used the drug trade to finance his Shan struggle. He argued that only economic development in the impoverished Shan State, still a major source of heroin, could stop opium growing and its smuggling to the “drug-crazed West”.
“My people grow opium. And they are not doing it for fun. They do it because they need to buy rice to eat and clothes to wear,” he once said.
Khun Sa continued to fight Burma's government and rival ethnic guerrilla groups like the Wa until 1996, when the junta - which had once threatened to hang him - offered him amnesty. He led many of his troops into surrendering and moved to Rangoon.
His surrender came after US and Thai counter-narcotics police captured many of his top lieutenants in an operation code-named Tiger Trap.
He kept a low profile, but reports said he lived a life of luxury in a secluded compound in the Burmese capital, having been awarded concessions to operate a transport company and a ruby mine, along with other businesses.
There was speculation that he was still involved in the narcotics trade, which was largely taken over by his former enemies, the Wa.