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Commandos Take Over Golden Triangle

Subject: Commandos Take Over Golden Triangle Drug Trade

Thursday April 3 10:50 AM EST 

Commandos Take Over Golden Triangle Drug Trade

MAE HONGSON, Thailand (Reuter) - Heroin factories in the Golden Triangle are
flourishing again as they once did under now-retired drug warlord Khun Sa --
but this
time at the direction of his longtime rivals, ethnic Wa guerrillas. 

Khun Sa's former turf has been taken over by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a
splinter group of the Burmese Communist Party in northern Burma's Shan state
which maintains a ceasefire with the military government in Rangoon, sources
Thai and U.S. anti-narcotics authorities told Reuters. 

The factories in the state's opium poppy-growing area formerly belonged to Khun
Sa, the half-Shan, half-Chinese leader of the now defunct Mong Tai Army (MTA),
which controlled the opium trade while fighting the Burmese government for Shan
state independence. 

"The information we have is, the United Wa State Army has resumed much of the
drugs production and activities from the Shan United Army (MTA)," said a drug
enforcement officer with the U.S. embassy in Bangkok. 

Opium is refined into heroin. The Golden Triangle, which straddles the
borders of
Laos, Thailand and Burma, is said by U.S. drug enforcement officials to supply
about 70 percent of the world's heroin. 

Khun Sa surrendered to Burmese authorities in January 1996 and is believed by
anti-drug officials to be living in luxury in Rangoon. Burma has said Khun
Sa, who is
wanted by U.S. authorities, will not be extradited. 

Golden Triangle heroin production went into hiatus during the power vacuum
following Khun Sa's surrender. 

But the United Wa State Army had since taken over several former MTA jungle
bases in defiance of demands by Burma's ruling State Law and Order Restoration
Council (SLORC) that it pull out of the area, the Thai sources said. 

"The heroin factories that used to belong to Khun Sa such as Doi Lang and Hauy
Maekham are now under the control of the Wa," a Thai narcotics officer told

The Wa took over the heroin factories after Wei Siao Gang, who is wanted by the
United States for drug trafficking, was appointed commander of UWSA forces near
the Thai border late last year, replacing Tei Kung Ming, who was murdered in
China, a Thai police source said. 

Wei Siao Gang and his brother Wei Siao Long are longtime, bitter rivals of
Khun Sa
in the drug trade. 

"The Wei brothers are the new drug kings in the Golden Triangle," the narcotics
officer said. 

Doi Lang is a former Khun Sa stronghold while Hauy Maekhan was believed to have
housed one of his biggest heroin factories. 

A journalist who visited the areas last week confirmed heavy deployments of Wa
guerrillas in the two places. 

"Every month, the Wa produce at least 140 kg (309 lb) of heroin from these two
factories," said another Thai anti-narcotics source based in northern Thailand. 

He estimated that the Wa produced at least two tonnes of heroin annually. 

Khun Sa's former headquarters at Ho Mong in Shan state is now a ghost town.
At the
height of his power, Ho Mong housed more than 12,000 people who enjoyed such
amenities as a school, hospital, electricity and karaoke bars.