BurmaNet News, April 8, 2005

Editor editor at burmanet.org
Fri Apr 8 13:16:18 EDT 2005

April 8, 2005 Issue # 2693

AFP: Secret Myanmar trials hand down stiff sentences
AP: Neither dissent at home nor pressure from outside seem to dent
Myanmar's junta
SHAN: Ceasefire commander has had enough of it

Reuters: ChevronTexaco seen selling Unocal Myanmar assets

AFP: Philippines senate urges ASEAN to deny Myanmar chairmanship
Deutsche Presse-Agentur: ASEAN looks to E.U., U.N. for planned charter

AFP: Myanmar PM jets into Cambodia amid ASEAN debate

Japan Economic Newswire: Suu Kyi's aide sues Japanese gov't for damages
over detention

Irrawaddy: Economy or democracy: which comes first?
Nation: Defeat of a warlord


April 8, Agence France Presse
Secret Myanmar trials hand down stiff sentences

Yangon: Secret courts inside Myanmar's notorious Insein prison have begun
handing down stiff sentences in trials for some 300 people linked to the
disbanded military intelligence services, legal sources said Friday.

Among those sentenced were Brigadier General Thein Swe, who headed foreign
relations at military intelligence and was a chairman of the semi-official
Myanmar Times weekly newspaper, sources close to the trials told AFP on
condition of anonymity.

Thein Swe received four sentences of 38 years, for a total of 152 years,
on charges that were unclear, the sources said.

His son Sonny Swe, who worked at the newspaper, received a 14-year
sentence for violating censorship laws, the sources added.

The sentences were among the first handed down by 25 special tribunals
that were set up in January inside Insein prison, about 15 kilometers (10
miles) outside Yangon, to hear corruption charges against people linked to
the military intelligence bureau that the ruling junta dismantled last

Most defendants faced multiple charges, including corruption and
possession of illegal foreign currency. Some of the higher-ranking
officials were likely to be charged with conspiracy, legal experts said.

All the defendants were closely connected to former military intelligence
chief and deposed premier General Khin Nyunt, who has been accused by the
ruling military junta of insubordination and abuse of power.

Khin Nyunt, who led military intelligence for two decades, had favored
limited dialogue with detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He was
replaced by junta hardliner General Soe Win.

Myanmar's military rulers have painted the purge as a crackdown on
corruption. In October they scrapped the National Intelligence Bureau, the
body that gave widespread powers to military intelligence officers.

The military has ruled the country since 1962. Aung San Suu Kyi's National
League for Democracy won elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take


April 8, Associated Press
Neither dissent at home nor pressure from outside seem to dent Myanmar's
junta - Denis D. Gray

Yangon: Every year, Myanmar's ruling generals throw a grand party in
verdant People's Park, marching their troops around in celebration of what
they claim are their many achievements. But it's an in-house affair.

The general public isn't invited to the Armed Forces Day event, and is
kept well away by tight security.

To many, it's a symbol of the gulf between people and rulers in Asia's
last military dictatorship, and underlines the grip of a regime which
internal dissent and international pressure seem powerless to loosen.

Rarely in the 17 years since the present junta seized power has the mood
in the capital of the impoverished country seemed bleaker.

In fact, the generals are looking more secure than ever. They have
continental Asia's two biggest powers, India and China, on their side, and
unless foreign objections prevail, Myanmar will next year assume the
prestigious rotating chairmanship of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast
Asian Nations.

The junta is widely hated, says one knowledgeable Yangon man, but adds
that short of a U.S. invasion, no one can see a way of dislodging it.
"People know they would get gunned down if they protested in the streets,"
he said, requesting anonymity for fear of official retaliation.

Thus dissent is merely expressed in sarcastic jokes rather than
anti-regime plotting when the disaffected of Yangon meet in the teashops
that officials regard as hotbeds of opposition.

A new U.S. State Department report says: "Prospects for meaningful
political change and reform continued to decline over the past six

Headed by hard-liner Gen. Than Shwe, who consolidated his power with the
ousting of a powerful rival last year, the junta shows no signs of
releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate who symbolizes
Myanmar's pro-democracy movement. Approaching her 60th birthday, she has
been under house arrest for a year and barred from contact with
independent observers.

Except in Yangon, the offices of her National League for Democracy across
the country remain padlocked. Some of its members are among Myanmar's
estimated 1,300 political prisoners. The few remaining opposition leaders
are in their 80s while the movement's rank-and-file is considered to be
infiltrated by government agents.

"It's a terrible situation. When I talk to the opposition people they want
me to give them some hope, but I can't," says David Steinberg, a
Georgetown University professor who has contacts among both regime and
opposition figures.

The junta insists it's following a seven-point road map to democracy and a
constitution has been in the works for 12 years. But critics are

"This road map and this constitution have been charades from the very
beginning," says Asda Jayanama, Thailand's former ambassador to the United

Asda, who has had extensive dealings with the Myanmar government, says the
military has already signaled that 25 percent of legislative seats will go
to its members and the head of state is to be someone of military
background. The generals, he says, will simply switch from uniforms to
civilian clothes.

External pressure has recently intensified over the ASEAN chairmanship.

Some within the 10-nation bloc say the regime must first take steps toward
democracy, and the United States, which imposed economic sanctions in
2003, has indicated it would boycott any ASEAN meetings chaired by
Myanmar. Recent United Nations statements have abandoned diplomatic
language to flatly lambaste the country's human rights record.

But ASEAN rarely interferes in the domestic affairs of its members, and
Myanmar, under the military's control since 1962, has a record of
retreating into a shell rather than give in to outside pressure.

"It's dicey. Than Shwe could easily say, 'I don't give a damn about
foreigners. We'll go back to our isolation,"' Steinberg says.

Not total isolation, though. China provides Myanmar's more than
400,000-strong armed forces with arms, and last month an Indian foreign
minister visited for the first time in 18 years. India, initially hostile
to the junta when it seized power in 1988, apparently wants to offset
China's influence here, and says it now considers Myanmar a "valuable
neighbor and strategic partner."

"Real change can only come from within, people staging a coup d'etat or
whatever," says Asda. Steinberg says a new order could only emerge if a
serious rift split the military or a popular uprising broke out.

People did rise up in 1988, and thousands died. The military's brutal
response still haunts the nation.


April 8, Shan Herald Agency for News
One ceasefire commander has had enough of it

Ceasefire sources have confirmed the surrender of one of their brigade
commanders to the Burma Army yesterday.

Lt-Col Ganna, Commander of Hsenwi-based 11th Brigade, Shan State National
Army, formally submitted himself to the Burmese authorities at a ceremony
held at Kunkawk village primary school, with 38 men and 21 assorted arms.

"That was only 1 fraction of his brigade that he took with him," argued
the source in northern Shan State.

The 11th Brigade is said to be 300-strong.

Two days earlier, he had been summoned to meet unidentified Burmese
authorities with whom he held an all day session from morning till
evening. He was seen coming back to his home in Zay Oo village under heavy
armed escort.

Sources believe he had been blackmailed into submission. According to
Democratic Voice of Burma, 8 February 2002, Burmese military columns
staged a raid on an unsuspecting SSNA camp in Mongli on 30 January, when
they uncovered 20 sacks full of ephedrine powder used in manufacturing
yaba methamphetamine stimulants. More than 50 fighters were put under
custody. "All of them are still behind bars," said an SSNA source. "It is
possible that some of them might have talked."

Encouraged by the success with Ganna, Burmese authorities are now
approaching another SSNA commander, Khaymar of the Namtu-Mongyen based 6th

The SSNA has 4 brigades: 6th, 11th, 16th and 19th. The 19th Brigade,
commanded by Lt-Col Koongkhurh, based in Nampawng, Tangyan township, is
said to be the strongest, between 800-1,000.

Its principal ally Shan State Army "North" has 3 brigades: 1st, 3rd and 7th.


April 8, Reuters
ChevronTexaco seen selling Unocal Myanmar assets - Deepa Babington and
Darren Schuettler

New York/Bangkok: ChevronTexaco Corp. (CVX.N: Quote, Profile, Research)
will likely sell a natural gas pipeline and field in army-ruled Myanmar
rather than face protests from activists opposed to the holdings of its
takeover target Unocal Corp. (UCL.N: Quote, Profile, Research) , analysts

Human rights activists, who have long fought to drive foreign investment
out of Myanmar in a bid to starve the government of cash, set their sights
on ChevronTexaco earlier this week after it said it would buy Unocal for
$16.4 billion.

Formerly known as Burma, the natural resources-rich Southeast Asian nation
is run by a military junta that has been branded among the most repressive
in the world. It has faced growing isolation from the West, especially
following the junta's latest detention of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

"Any investor in Burma should be aware that they may become targets of
boycotts and divestment campaigns by an international network of
activists, labor groups and other organizations," said Debbie Stothard, a
spokeswoman for the Bangkok-based Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma.

Much larger than California rival Unocal, ChevronTexaco is more vulnerable
to consumer pressure because of its numerous gas stations, which could
become the target of boycotts, activists say.

Unocal sold its retail outlets in 1997 to focus on producing and exploring
for oil and gas.

Analysts are already expecting ChevronTexaco to sell Unocal's Myanmar
assets to avoid a political backlash. Those holdings are likely to be
included in a group of assets ChevronTexaco is said to be considering
selling to raise $2 billion, analysts say.

"Our expectations would be a swift sale of this $700 million asset,
perhaps to the Chinese, if major opposition were to emerge," Deutsche Bank
analysts wrote in a research report earlier this week.

ChevronTexaco says it has yet to decide which properties it will shed as
part of a planned $2 billion in asset sales.

Oil and gas is a key source of revenue and one of the few growth sectors
in Myanmar's economy battered by decades of crippling policies and more
recently, Western sanctions. The U.S. imposed sanctions on new investments
in 1997, but Unocal was allowed to stay because of its prior history

A human rights group, Burma Campaign UK, earlier this week called on
ChevronTexaco to sell Unocal's stake in the Yadana gas project or become a
target of rights campaigners.

Unocal and French oil company Total (TOTF.PA: Quote, Profile, Research) ,
which have stakes in the Yadana natural gas pipeline project, have both
faced protests for years. Others such as PepsiCo (PEP.N: Quote, Profile,
Research) and Levi Strauss are among a number who bowed to pressure and
abandoned the country in the 1990s.


ChevronTexaco says it has a history of supporting human rights issues and
that it is a founding supporter of the Global Sullivan Principles that
encourage companies to support economic, social and political justice
where they do business.

"We do take our responsibility as investors there seriously, and our
support for universal human rights is grounded in the ChevronTexaco way,"
said spokesman Don Campbell.

One major factor in its favor is a settlement that Unocal struck last
month to end an eight-year dispute with 15 villagers from Myanmar who
accused it of ignoring human rights abuses ranging from murder to torture
along a pipeline route.

The deal insulates ChevronTexaco from financial or legal liability related
to the Myanmar operations and removes an obvious issue that activists had
rallied around for years.

"Had the settlement not been reached, it would have been such a political
hot potato, it would have questioned the sale," said Bennett Freeman, a
former deputy assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and
labor under former President Bill Clinton's administration.

Activists also want to see that Unocal does not leave before it satisfies
its obligations under the deal, which includes providing funds to develop
healthcare and education programs in the region, he said.

Others such as Simon Billeness, a board member for the US Campaign for
Burma, say the settlement was only struck with a small group of affected
people and cannot stop further lawsuits on the issue.

This isn't the company's first brush with Myanmar. Its predecessor, Texaco
Inc., was a shareholder and operator of a gas project there, but pulled
out of the country in 1997.

Activists say that if a state-owned oil and gas company chose to buy the
Unocal assets, it could be even less responsive to pressure and scrutiny.

(Additional reporting by Charlie Zhu in Singapore)


April 8, Agence France Presse
Philippines senate urges ASEAN to deny Myanmar chairmanship

Manila: The Philippines senate is to pass a resolution calling for Myanmar
to be stripped of its upcoming ASEAN chairmanship unless it releases a
timetable towards democracy and improves human rights, its president said

Franklin Drilon urged Myanmar's military government to respect the rights
of its people ahead of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
foreign ministers' informal meeting in the central Philippines city of
Cebu on Monday.

"The Senate of the Philippines through the Committee on Foreign Relations
has a pending resolution which is about to be adopted in the Senate which
says Myanmar should not be allowed to assume the chairmanship of the ASEAN
unless there is a definite timetable for the roadmap to democracy and the
human rights issues are addressed," he said.

Drilon said Filipino Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo has told him "that
he will bring to the attention of the informal gathering of foreign
affairs ministers the sentiment of the Philippine Senate insofar as the
Myanmar issue is concerned."

Politicians in ASEAN member states Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore
have been seeking to prevent Myanmar from taking over the rotating ASEAN
chairmanship next year, while Cambodia and Vietnam are backing Yangon on
the issue.

ASEAN also includes Brunei, Indonesia, Laos and Thailand.

The United States and the European Union have also warned ties with ASEAN
may be frayed and that they may boycott ASEAN meetings unless there are
tangible democratic reforms and while opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi
remains under house arrest.


April 8, Deutsche Presse-Agentur
ASEAN looks to E.U., U.N. for planned charter

Mactan, Philippines: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is
looking to the European Union and the United Nations as possible models
for a planned charter aimed at giving the regional group a "legal
personality", officials said Friday.

The need for a charter has been agreed upon by ASEAN leaders two years
ago, and senior officials will be holding their first meeting on it over
the weekend ahead of a foreign ministers' retreat on Mactan island, 600
kilometres south of Manila.

The first meeting on the charter comes amid mounting pressure on ASEAN to
get Myanmar (Burma) to fullfill its commitments to institute democratic
reforms before it is allowed to assume the group's rotating chairmanship
in 2006.

"There is common agreement that there is already a need for ASEAN to have
a legal personality ... so that whatever agreements ASEAN will be making
will have a binding effect," said Philippine Assistant Foreign Secretary
Susan Castrence.

But Castrence noted that the process would be long and cannot be done
overnight since ASEAN would have to take into consideration the different
national laws and political systems of its 10 member countries.

"There may be some contentious matters which some member countries may
find sensitive," she said. "Because if you create a charter, at some point
you may have to give up a portion of your national sovereignty."

Castrence said the senior officials studying the plan would be looking at
the charters of various world organisations for leads on the key elements
that must be put into ASEAN's constitution.

"We are looking at the charter of the United Nations, the European Union,
the North American grouping," she said. "That will be part of the study in
order to really achieve a charter that is ideal for ASEAN."

"We have to learn from the experience of other regional groups which have
achieved their goal of having a charter," she added.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore,
Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.

The regional group has come under pressure to defer Myanmar's assumption
of the rotating chairmanship until Yangon comes up with a timetable for
its roadmap to democracy and frees detained pro-democracy leader Aung San
Suu Kyi.

Some of ASEAN's dialogue partners have even reportedly threatened not to
attend meetings if Myanmar is allowed to chair its meetings in 2006,
including a security forum that includes the E.U., the United States, and
other dialogue partners.


April 8, Agence France Presse
Myanmar PM jets into Cambodia amid ASEAN debate

Phnom Penh: Myanmar's Prime Minister Lieutenant General Soe Win jetted
into the Cambodian capital Friday as part of a swing through Southeast
Asia that comes amid debate over Yangon's role in ASEAN.

Greeted by his Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen, high-ranking government
officials, diplomats and flag-waving school children, the premier was
whisked to a five-star hotel for lunch along streets adorned with the
Myanmar flag.

Soe Win will later hold talks with Hun Sen during which Cambodia is
expected to give the military-ruled state backing for taking the
alphabetically rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations in 2006.

Hun Sen said last month attempting to block Myanmar from the chair would
violate ASEAN's policy of non-interference and set a dangerous precedent.

Concern has risen among some of the 10-member grouping about Myanmar
setting the group's agenda and direction while no tangible democratic
reforms have occurred and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under
house arrest.

The United States and the European Union have also warned ties with ASEAN
may be frayed and that they may boycott further ASEAN meetings.

Politicians in members Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore have been
seeking to prevent Myanmar's military rulers from taking over as chair.

ASEAN foreign ministers are due to hammer out a consensus as calls have
mounted to strip Myanmar of its chance to chair the group at an April 9-12
meeting in the Philippine resort city of Cebu.

Soe Win's overnight stop in Phnom Penh comes after a one-day visit to
Hanoi. He will depart early Saturday for Laos. Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and
Myanmar are ASEAN's four poorest members.

The other members are Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines,
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.


April 8, Japan Economic Newswire
Suu Kyi's aide sues Japanese gov't for damages over detention

Tokyo: A Myanmar man who served as an aide to pro-democracy activist Aung
San Suu Kyi filed a damages suit against the Japanese government on Friday
for detaining him for about 14 months after his request for asylum in
Japan was rejected and he was ordered to be deported to Myanmar.

The man, whose name is being withheld for safety concerns, is a key member
of the youth wing of the National League for Democracy party led by Suu
Kyi and also acted as a bodyguard to Suu Kyi, who is currently under house
arrest in Yangon.

The man, who lives in Tokyo, was granted a special residence permit in
March this year. He was detained at an immigration detention facility in
Tokyo in September 2003 after his request for refugee status was rejected
and he was given a deportation order. He was given provisional release in
November 2004.

The 41-year-old man is seeking 11 million yen in state compensation for
what he says is the justice minister's erroneous decision over his case
which led to his prolonged detention despite supporting evidence.

The evidence included documents and photos showing his relationship with
Suu Kyi and the testimony of another close aide to Suu Kyi, who is now in
Japan and had been granted refugee status.

'We don't want to wrap up this case just because he was given a special
residence permit after he was detained for that long. The emotional
distress caused by his detention is too big to dismiss,' Masako Suzuki,
the man's lawyer, said in a news conference.

Suzuki also protested that the Justice Ministry's Immigration Bureau did
not give any reason why it decided to change its mind and give him a
special residence permit.

A spokesman for the Immigration Bureau said the bureau cannot comment on
specific cases, citing privacy reasons.

Recounting his two-year detention in Myanmar, the man said, 'My detention
here compared to then was better, but at the time, I was younger and was
able to bear it more physically and emotionally.'

The man and senior members of the NLD were arrested when Suu Kyi was put
under house arrest on July 20, 1989.

Even after his release, he said he feels 'heavy hearted' in whatever he
does and fears going out. He also said he continues to worry about his
wife and child whom he left behind in Myanmar.

According to the lawsuit, the man arrived in Japan on a short-stay visa in
May 1999 with a fake passport. In April 2003, he was arrested for
illegally overstaying his visa -- the charge was later changed to illegal
entry -- and he filed for refugee status two months later.


April 8, Irrawaddy
Economy or democracy: which comes first? - Zaw Min

For over a decade, debate has raged over the appropriate path for Burma to
take in its journey to democracy. Some say that due to the unavoidably
drawn out process of implementing democratic reforms, economic growth
should come first. Others argue that ethnic minority communities have been
waiting so long for national reconciliation that a focus on economic
growth would just prolong the four-decade rule of the military

The economic growth approach has long been favored by western
governments—along with the EU, various NGOs and a host of academics—who
insist that a country which is widely involved in international trade
ultimately accepts transformation to democracy. The democratic reform
supporters, however, generally comprise the Burmese themselves: the people
actually being oppressed.

Today, Burmese suffer from poor health, a constantly disrupted education
system, extreme malnutrition and a high rate of malaria, tuberculosis and
HIV/AIDS. The life expectancy of Burmese people is about 58 years. More
foreign investment, so the theory goes, means more domestic investment and
an improvement in the lives of the people. However, if it is accepted that
these social problems are rooted in Burma’s moribund economy, which itself
stems from foreign investors’ hesitance, then there exists a counter

The majority of the population live in rural areas, and 85% of 52 million
people depend on a backward agriculture economy. The agricultural sector
has, however, largely been ignored by successive governments. After the
brutal crackdown on the 1988 popular uprising, the regime introduced a
so-called market economy which resulted in many young people leaving the
paddy fields, hoping for a better life in the cities. They were bound for
the factories, many of them run by foreign investors.

Far from realizing a better life, the workers were exploited by these
foreign investors in collaboration with the ruling junta. An article
earlier this year (Asia-AFP, 23/3/05) reported first hand on young girls
working in foreign-owned garment factories in Rangoon. They found that the
workers were making only about US $8 a month while working eleven hours a
day, seven days a week. This despite the claims of the Myanmar Garment
Manufacturers Association that factories were operating in line with the
country's labor laws and UN standards.

The example shows quite obviously that foreign investment does not
necessarily lead to an improvement in living conditions and human rights.
If the EU decides to lift sanctions against the Burmese regime, it must
consider how this will support the legitimacy of the regime and thus
prolong the rule of tyranny in Burma. Ignoring the agricultural sector and
pouring money from foreign investment into industrial enterprises is not
the way towards sustainable development. This merely destroys the
livelihoods of rural people, the majority of the population.

When we look at case studies among developing nations, there is no
evidence that a country under the rule of tyranny transforms into a
democratic society after achieving economic growth.

For Burma, it is debatable whether a major flow of foreign investment into
the country would result in the recovery of primary needs for the people
such as health, education and basic democratic rights. Foreign investment
in Burma since the early ‘90s has offered no significant improvement to
the economy as a whole.

Amartya Sen, the 1998 Nobel Prize winner for Economics, noted:
“Development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedom: poverty
as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic
social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerance or
over activity of repressive states.”

Democracy leads to economic development, not the other way around. Thus
Burma’s first priority should be democratic reform. This would lead to an
environment in which people are freely able to make choices, work out
their own livelihood strategies, and rebuild health and education. If the
political will exists, then change is within the reach of the people.

This article is contributed by Zaw Min who is a founder of a Thai-based
Burmese organization Bridges for Development.


April 7, Nation
Defeat of a warlord

Maha Ja claimed years ago that he had turned his back on the illicit drug
trade and was working to make his home a legitimate centre of commerce. He
envisioned himself as a bridge between the Thai and Burmese.

Where did he go wrong?

The two-lane paved road ends here and beyond this border checkpoint there
lies a great deal of uncertainty. These days, the future of the once
all-powerful Shan rebels that controlled this stretch of ground from Hua
Muang is looking increasingly tenuous.

High on a hilltop to the right is a small bamboo observation hut, manned
by a couple of Burmese government soldiers, the first line of defence for
two battalions just a few kilometres deeper inside in what is officially
known as Burma’s Shan State.

The units have been dispatched here to ensure the Shan rebellion,
effectively put down almost a decade ago in the name of national
reconciliation, does not spring back to life.

But the dismantling of the world-famous opium warlord Khun Sa’s
15,000-strong Mong Tai Army (MTA) did not win Burma much credit. The
international community labelled Rangoon’s amnesty deal with MTA bosses as
nothing more than an agreement to harbour one of the world’s largest drug
armies whose former leader, Khun Sa, is wanted by the United States. Khun
Sa has a US$2-million (Bt79.2 million) bounty on his head.

At the time of his surrender in early 1996, Khun Sa was said to be one of
the country’s richest men. His Hua Muang stronghold, about 20 kilometres
further inside, is run by a small band of rag-tag militia commanded by
former rebel Maha Ja, once a feared MTA commander who led a breakaway
faction to cut a separate deal with Rangoon.

As a reward, Rangoon permitted Maha Ja to form the Southern Shan State
Enterprise, to look after a wide range of business ventures that includes
garment manufacturing, logging and gem mining. Areas under his supervision
stretch from this border village all the way across the Salween River to
the city of Taunggyi, a major commercial centre in the southern Shan

Maha Ja operates his enterprise from the former MTA headquarters of Hua
Muang, a 14-kilometre stretch of valley that has managed to land itself on
the world map.

It was from here that experts say about half of the world’s heroin was
once produced and then smuggled abroad to flood the streets of America and
Europe. Thai authorities insist that such a label still carries some
truth, alleging 25 kilograms of heroin confiscated after a February
shootout on Thailand’s frontier was one of Maha Ja’s shipments.

The half-Shan and half-Wa warrior gained a reputation as a fierce soldier
in the early 1990s when his unit successfully fended off an attack by the
MTA’s arch rival, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), after a series of
bloody attacks on Doi Lang. But as the MTA later crumbled, the 32-square
kilometre strategic Doi Lang region, which sits at the tip of Chiang Mai’s
Mae Ai district, both Thai and Burmese government soldiers rushed to plant
their flagpoles.

The flags still stand today and the hill continues to be a focal point of
a demarcation dispute between Thailand and Burma. In April 2001, when The
Nation visited him at his Hua Muang headquarters, Maha Ja tried
desperately to shake off the ugly past and the stigma still haunting him
and many of his former colleagues.

This hardened little man insisted he no longer harboured any political
ambitions to form an independent Shan State and declared he was no longer
involved in the drug trade and that he had no enemies.

Still, Hua Muang residents say that even today he never leaves home
without bodyguards and two loaded pistols tucked into his belt, and a
sub-machine gun hanging from his neck.

For the past four years, Maha Ja has tried desperately to turn Hua Muang
into a commercial centre and has encouraged Thais to do business with his
enterprise, flaunting abundant raw materials and livestock to whet Thai

Historically, it is generally understood throughout the notorious Golden
Triangle region that a pro-Rangoon outfit will always be considered a
potential threat to Thailand.

For a long time Maha Ja believed he had achieved the impossible – being a
friend to both sides.

But the problem was that there were just too many people on the Thai side
of the border who were not convinced the former rebel commander had kicked
his heroin “habit”.

No one in the international community took him seriously when invited a
delegation to “his” area to see for themselves that it was drug-free.

Now, almost 10 years after claiming to have turned over a new leaf, Maha
Ja has finally hit a brick wall.

Last month Thai police issued a warrant for his arrest, accusing him of
dealing drugs using the same network as Wei Hsueh-kang, a notorious UWSA
drug lord who has been convicted in both Thai and US Federal Courts for
heroin trafficking.

The Thai police swooped on his associates – who had been tending his
investments on the Thai side of the border – and confiscated hundreds of
millions of baht worth of property.

Another, less forthright, effort to keep him out in the cold was
construction of a flea market on the Thai side of the border.

The idea was to stop Thai merchants travelling to Hua Muang to do
business. Sadly, there are more merchants than customers at the market
these days.

According to the Chiang Mai-based Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN), Maha
Ja has dismissed the latest accusations of impropriety, claiming he has
nothing to do with Wei.

“I joined Sao Khun Sa in 1985, after Wei Hsueh-kang had left him. Both of
us have now made peace with the Burmese government, but that’s that,” SHAN
quoted him as saying.

Maha Ja is from Shan State’s Wiang-ngern, one of the three main Wa
territories that were in existence before the communist invasion of 1968.

Today, the prince of Wiang-ngern – as he his known by people around him –
is stuck between the Burmese and the Thais, as his power base is eroded
before his very eyes.

He wanted it both ways – to be friends with the Thais and remain committed
to peace with the Burmese. Like other Golden Triangle warlords who came
before him, Maha Ja has failed.

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