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Burmese troops clash with drug runners in Golden Triangle

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – A one-hour gunfight broke out between armed drug runners and Burmese troops near Keng Lap village in Mong Pyak Township in the Golden Triangle area of the Mekong River on Tuesday.

An early map of the Golden Triangle area of Thailand, Burma and Laos. Photo : www.asianbiketour.comAround 70-90 armed drug carriers opened fire on Burmese troops and engaged in a fire-fight after the troops followed them into a village.

According to a local source, ‘A group of armed carriers with rangers' uniforms came into the village and asked for food. But they didn’t have any badges. They looked like UWSA troops rather than the SSA-S’. The United Wa State Army and Shan State Army-South both operate in the area.

‘The Burmese troops came later and followed the group into the jungle and the fight broke out’, he said.

A Tachileik resident said Burmese troops from Ta Lur and Mong Pyak were sent to the area after the clash. Unconfirmed reports say that the United Wa State Army (UWSA) has sent troops into the area to secure territory if fighting breaks out with the regime.

The nearby Mekong River area is an economic lifeline for the UWSA and the National Democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) (aka Mong La groups), said the source.

Area residents say Naw Kham, a local ‘godfather’ of drug trafficking in the area, has recently kidnapped people from gambling boats, among his other activities.

According to Shan sources, on April 4 his armed group took over three boats of the "King Roman Casinos" on the Mekong River near Tar Sampu and 19 people were taken away. The group demanded 60,000 yuan (US $9,197) for the release of each person.

The source said that rumours are circulating that the Chinese authorities might ask the NDAA or UWSA to remove the Naw Kham group from the Golden Triangle area since Burmese troops have not been successful in eliminating their activities.

Naw Kham allegedly pays bribes to the local Burmese authorities and works with the Lahu militia in the area. The Burmese authorities have denied that the Naw Kham group is in Burma.

Naw Kham is a former officer under the leadership of the late drug lord Khun Sa, who surrendered to the Burmese regime in 1995. He was chosen to become a militia leader by the Burmese regime in the area, and he continued in the drug business by paying bribes to local Burmese, sources say.

However, his free movement in the area ended when his group opened fired on a Chinese cargo boat on the Mekong River, which left one dead and three severely wounded, after which the Chinese government put pressure on the Burmese regime to hand him over.

Two weeks after the incident, the Burmese army seized weapons, 350 kg of heroin and 217 million baht (US $6 million) in cash, following a clash with Naw Kham’s private militia in the Tachileik area.

However, Naw Kham has not been arrested. It is believed that he has about 50 to 70 armed drug carriers under his leadership and remains active along the Mekong River.

Last Updated ( Friday, 08 April 2011 15:03 )  

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