The area of South East Asia encompassing the region where the borders of Laos, Thailand and Burma meet once was the centre of the opium smuggling routes.This region has generated a plethora of tales of derring do involving romantic characters who have evolved into Hollywood legends. In truth the heyday of the golden Triangle has passed ,the product now smuggled over the Salween River running in a north to south direction, encompassing the Shan State to debouche into Thailand and Laos.

The product of the region has been used as a source of income by a number of armies and militia ;also by rouge elements within legitimate armies of national governments. The area of the greatest production,situated in southern Burma known as the Shan State, is as vast as Oklahoma .

For centuries the Shan have been under the yoke of the Burmese ,but for a short period when the country was administered by the British . With independence from the UK shortly after World War Two various militias formed in order to resist a harsh Rangoon government ranging from that of the Wa Army in the west,the Mons in the center , the Kareni and the Karen straddling the Thai border, and the Mong Tai Army of the Shan State in the south east.Also a player is the Communist Party of Burma (CPB)Army stationed mainly close to the Chinese province of Yunnan which is adjacent to the Shan State.

After independence in 1947, supposedly to combat the lawlessness of the interior, the central government in Rangoon created the Ka Kwe Ye (KKY), an organization of militias who ,in exchange for loyalty to the central government, were allowed to do just about anything ,which they did with a vengence so long as they did not attack government troops,the central government turning a blind eye to their activities so long as they assisted it in maintaining power.Into the mix must be added the 93rd regiment of the Kuomintang Army (KMT ) of Chiang- Kia -Check ,expelled by the Peoples Liberation Army of Communist China, and ,although encompassed by the Shan State Army and the C.P.B Army,was by no means cowed.

The KMT had originally been subsidized by the CIA and charged with conducting covert operations and intelligence gathering on the Chinese border. After a disastrous attempted invasion of southern China in 1952 the CIA withdrew their support ,the Burmese then dislodging it from Shan State in 1961.Disowned by Taiwan they regrouped over the Thai border at Tam Ngap and in the Mae Salong mountain redoubt, north of Chiong Moi.

They soon cornered the opium market with help from the Thai military and with the protection supplied by the Thai police commander General Phao Synanan .Thailand tolerated the KMT as it acted as a buffer to the communists on the northern frontier.

The Mong Tai Army
One of the most remarkable armies of the region was the army of the Shan State, the 'Mont Tai Army'(MTA) under General Khum Sa (Prince of Prosperity) Khum Sa has more of an aura of a successful businessman in his autumn years than that of a ruthless drug lord.Mild polite and, some say, including the DEA,was in control of a vast amount of the worlds opium.

Khum Sa started his career as a commander in the KKY eventually going into business for himself . In 1964, he cut his ties with the KKY setting himself up in the north east portion of the Shan State by raising an army of about forty thousand strong.This army stationed at Mong Ho was divided into three elements :

  • the Noom Suk Herng,the youth wing who underwent training for up to six years .
  • the regular Mong Tai Army who after intensive basic training lasting six months went on to advanced infantry training lasing for up to a year.
  • The cream were the special forces who trained in the arts of assassination ,abduction and information gathering.
  • From these are selected those who served as the Generals body guard, distinguished by the red ribbons attached to their rifle stocks.

Troops were proficient with a multitude of weapons including the M16, AK 47, AKS 79, RPG 7 , the soviet shoulder launched SA 7 Grail anti aircraft weapon and the US Stinger. So good were they in the anti aircraft role that the rudimentary Burmese air force were loath to approach Mong Ho,their base HQ.

So good were they that they claim to have ejected the KMT from the Shan State forcing them to subsist near the Thai border north of Chiang Mai.This however was not achieved without first undergoing some reverses, the most notable during the 1967 Opium Wars.They had issued an ultimatum to the KMT that their units passing through MTA territory were subject to taxes payable to the MTA, similar to the ones the MTA had to pay when passing though KMT territory.

In the following June Khum Sa's opium was headed south from Ningnum to Bon Khuan Loa village in the triangle where the buyer, General Ouane Rallik of the Royal Laotian Army, operated a heroin refinery. The armed column linked up with a second shipment from central Shan state creating an opium caravan of three hundred mules a mile long. The KMT couldn’t let it get through as if they did it would create revenues enough to recruit and arm another thousand MTA soldiers thus putting it on a par with the KMT and threatening their supply routes.

In mid July KMT sprang an ambush south of Keng Yung. The caravan managed to extract itself and was then pursued by the KMT to Ban Khwan in Thailand. General Ouame of the Royal Thai army ordered both armies out, backing up his demands with ariel bombing and strafing, and the landing of paratroopers . The previously entrenched MTA retreated into Burma while the KMT retreated to the north.General Ouame then took possession of the unpaid for opium ,and ,in addition, charged the KMT a ransom for the return of their captured soldiers.

This General Ouane was good at playing all of the angles and was responsible for supplying drug addicted GI's stationed in Viet Nam during that conflict who were estimated to be 15% of the US army .
Link to Burma(1)
Link to Burma(2)

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