In the 1970s, 80s and 90s much of the drug trade in the Golden Triangle was controlled by Khun Sa, a Shan war lord who liked to dress in military fatigues, raise rabbits and smoke cheroots. The son of wealthy Chinese tea trader and an ethic Shan mother, he lived in his well fortified headquarters in Ho Mong village in the East Shan State in Myanmar about nine miles from the Thai border town of Mae Hong Son. Treks from Mae Hong Son often included glimpses of Khun Sa's fortified mansion. [Source: Ron Moreau, Newsweek, and Philip Shenon, the New York Times]

Also known as Chang Chi-Fu or Sao Mong Kwan, Khun Sa was born in Loi Maw of Mongyai in eastern Myanmar Dubbed the "Opium King” of the Golden Triangle, he was also the leader of the Shan United Army and the Mong Tai Army. For a while he was based in Thailand. The Thai army attacked his camp and drove him back to Myanmar, where he set up his own private fiefdom in East Shan State. Khun Sa was portrayed by actor Ric Young in the 2007 film, American Gangster.

Khun-Sa's real name is Chiang Chifu. He adopted the pseudonym Khun Sa, meaning "Prince Prosperous". In his youth he trained with the Kuomintang, which had fled into the border regions of Burma from Yunnan upon its defeat in the Chinese Civil War. He got involved in the drug trade at an early age by working with Chinese Kuomingtan soldiers that lived in the eastern Shan State. In 1969, when he was 36, he was imprisoned in Mandalay for drug trafficking and stayed there for five years until his friends broke him out. He fled to Thailand and organized a drug network an army. In the 1990s, he controlled an army of 3000 men that watched over 600 tons of opium produced in Myanmar and 60 tons produced in Thailand.

Bert Lintner , who met Khun Sa twice, wrote on Asia Online: “Khun Sa was probably one of the most colorful and controversial figures on the Myanmar drug scene. Despite being indicted on drug trafficking charges by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn, New York, in January 1990, he continued to live comfortably at his then headquarters at Homong near the Thai border opposite Mae Hong Son...By then he was officially the most wanted man in the world, indicted by the United States and referred to by then-US ambassador to Thailand William Brown as "the worst enemy the world has" [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007; Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review]

According to Wikipedia: “Over the two decades of his unrivalled dominance of the Shan state, from 1974 to 1994, the share of New York street heroin coming from the Golden Triangle—the northern parts of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos—rose from 5 percent to 80 percent. It was 90 percent pure, "the best in the business", according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. And Khun Sa, the DEA thought, had most of that trade. [Source: Wikipedia]

Khun Sa Era in the Golden Triangle

In the early 1970s, as the Vietnam War was winding down and coming to an end, heroin exportation from parts of Southeast Asia controlled by Khun Sa, increased and the Golden Triangle became a major source for raw opium in the profitable "China White" drug trade, which picked up momentum in the late 1970s.

In the 1980s, Khun Sa became a heroin supplier as opium production in Burma increased under the rule of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), the Burmese junta regime. The single largest heroin seizure at that time was made in Bangkok a — a 1,000-kilogram shipment of heroin en route to New York City that the U.S. believed originated from the Golden Triangle.

In 1990, a U.S. Court indicted Khun Sa on heroin trafficking charges for importing 1,600 kilograms of heroin into New York City over the course of eighteen months, as well as holding him responsible for the source of the heroin seized in Bangkok. In 1993 the Thai army with support from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) launched a campaign in which thousands of acres of opium poppies in the Golden Triangle were destroyed.

In the mid 1990s, the Golden Triangle region was the world’s leading producer of opium, producing 2,500 tons annually. According to U.S. drug experts, opium and heroin were smuggled out of Burma on drug trafficking routes mainly through Laos, to southern China, Cambodia and Vietnam. In 1994, it was estimated that Khun Sa and the United Wa State Army controlled 75 percent of the heroin originating in the Golden Triangle. A Panthay Chinese Muslim from Burma, Ma Zhengwen, assisted Khun Sa in selling his heroin in north Thailand. In 1996, Khun Sa retired and the United Wa State Army took over many of the areas he controlled.

In January 1996, Khun Sa "surrendered" to SLORC. The U.S. didn’t believe it and thought it was just a deal in which Khun Sa agreed to end his 30-year-old revolutionary war against the government in exchange for retaining control of his opium trade.

Khun Sa's Early Life

Bert Lintner wrote on Asia Online: Khun Sa was born in 1934 in a small village in Northern Shan State to an ethnic Shan mother and a Chinese father. He grew up as an orphan as his father died when he was only three. His mother remarried the local tax collector of the small town of Mong Tawm, but two years later she died as well. While his three stepbrothers went to missionary schools and were given the Christian names Oscar, Billy and Morgan, the young Khun Sa was raised by his Chinese grandfather amid the poppy fields of Loi Maw mountain in northern Shan state. His only formal education consisted of a few years as a temple boy in a Buddhist monastery. During one of our interviews, I noticed that all his correspondence had to be read to him and that his replies were dictated. [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007]

At the age of 16, Khun Sa formed his own armed band. He gained his first military experience in skirmishes with the Kuomintang, or nationalist Chinese forces, who had set up bases in Loi Maw in the early 1950s. He eventually went on to form his own army of a few hundred men. In the early 1960s, his small private army was even recognized officially as the "Loi Maw Ka Kwe Ye", a militia and home guard unit under the Myanmar army loyal to Gen Ne Win's Burmese government. Ka Kwe Ye received money, uniforms and weapons from the Burmese government in return for fighting the Shan rebels.

In 1966, Khun Sa was deputzied by the Burmese government as head of a village defense force against the BCP (Burmese Communist Party), which at the time was at full strength and heavily involved in opium cultivation. Khun Sa cleverly used government backing to consolidate his power and beef up the strength of his militia. When Khun Sa had expanded his army to 800 men, he stopped cooperating with the Burmese government, took control of large area in Shan and Wa states and expanded into opium production. Khun Sa’s militia eventually grew into the Shan United Army (SUA), also known a sthe Shan State Army. [Source: Wikipedia. Lonely Planet]

Khun Sa Takes Control of the Golden Triangle Drug Trade

In 1967 Khun Sa clashed with the Kuomintang (KMT) remnants in Shan State after the KMT attempted to “embargo” the SUA opium trade by blocking their jungle smuggling routes. Khun Sa started what became known as the Opium War of 1967, which resulted in his defeat, demoralizing him and his forces. In 1969, the Rangoon government captured him. He was freed in 1973 when his second-in-command abducted two Russian doctors and demanded his release. By 1976 he had returned to opium smuggling, and set up a base inside northern Thailand in the village of Ban Hin Taek. He renamed his group the Shan United Army and began ostensibly fighting for Shan autonomy against the Burmese government. [Source: Wikipedia, Lonely Planet]

Bert Lintner wrote on Asia Online: Khun Sa, then 33, decided to challenge the supremacy of much more senior Kuomintang opium warlords. In May 1967, he set out from the hills of northern Shan state with a large contingent of soldiers and a massive 16-ton opium convoy, destined for Ban Khwan, a small Laotian lumber village across the Mekong River from Chiang Saen in Thailand. More traders joined his convoy, and by the time it reached the city of Kengtung in eastern Shan state, its single-file column of 500 men and 300 mules stretched along the ridge for more than a mile. [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007*]

“The convoy crossed the Mekong and the Kuomintang rushed to intercept it. Fierce fighting raged for several days, but the outcome of the battle is still somewhat obscure. At that time, General Ouane Rattikone, the commander-in-chief of the Royal Lao Army, ran several heroin refineries in the nearby Ban HoueySai area, and sent the Lao air force to bomb the battle site. Officially, he cheated both Khun Sa and the Kuomintang, and made off with the opium. Other sources told this correspondent that the opium had already been sold, and Khun Sa subsequently made his first significant investment in Thailand. On attempting to contact the Shan rebels, perhaps to switch sides, in 1969 he was arrested and imprisoned in Mandalay. He was charged with high treason for attempting to contact the rebels, not for drug trafficking, for which at the time he had informal government permission to engage in. *

“In April 1973, his men who had gone underground in the jungle kidnapped two Soviet doctors who were working at the hospital in the Shan state capital of Taunggyi. An entire division of Myanmar government troops was mobilized to rescue the doctors. The operation was unsuccessful and it was not until August 1974 that the foreign hostages were supposedly unconditionally released through Thailand. By strange coincidence, Khun Sa was released from prison shortly afterwards. It was later revealed that Thai northern army commander General Kriangsak Chomanan had helped to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. Khun Sa later slipped away to northern Thailand. *

In October 1981 a 39-man unit of Thai Rangers and Burmese guerrillas attempted to assassinate Khun Sa at the insistence of the US Drug Enforcement Administration. The attempt failed, however. In January 1982 a Thai Ranger squad from Pak Thong Chai, together with units from the Border Patrol Police and the Royal Thai Army, was used to force Khun Sa to move his headquarters from Ban Hin Taek across the border into Myanmar, where he initially directed his empire from a fortified network of underground tunnels. The Thai raid lead to the break up of the opium and heroin production operation in the Mae Salong-Ban Tin Taek area of Thailand.

In 1985, Khun Sa joined forces with the Tai Revolutionary Council of Moh Heng and several other Shan armies to for, the Muang Tai Army (MTA) led by the Shan State Restoration Council. In the early 1990s the MTA reached a peak strength of 25,000 soldiers, by far the largest ethnic armed group in Myanmar. Through that alliance Khun Sa both gained control of the whole Thai-Burma border area from Mae Hong Son to Mae Sai and became one of the principal figures in opium smuggling in the Golden Triangle. [Source: Wikipedia]

Khun Sa and His Drug Empire

In 1975 Khun Sa’s SUA increased it influence in the Golden Triangle region. As the Burmese government broke the KMT’s control over the Golden Triangle opium market the SUA stepped in to fill the void.Kun Sa established a new headquarters at Ban Hin Taek in Chiang Rai province, Thailand. By that time the U.S. had pulled out of Indochina so there was no competition from CIA-backed traffickers. Khun Sa largely severed relationships with intermediaries, buying up opium directly from hill tribe and Shan farmers and transporting it to heroin labs in Myanmar, Laos and Yunnan in China, where the final product was turned over to ethnic Chinese (usually Tae Jiu or Chiao Zhou) syndicates which controlled access to world markets through Thailand, Yunnan and Hong Kong.

Khun Sa controlled his drug empire for over 30 years and reportedly earned billions of dollars in the drug trade. It is believed that he controlled about half of the heroin and opium that came of Myanmar, which in turn counted for about 60 percent of the heroin sold on the streets in the United States. In many ways his power was greatly exaggerated and overestimated. He was primary involved in the lower rungs of drug trade. The biggest profits were made by the Chinese syndicates.

U.S. drug officials said that Khun Sa organized farmers to grow opium and ran or franchised 15 to 20 heroin refining laboratories along the Thai-Myanmar border. He reportedly made cash payments of $26,000 to Thai border police to make sure his heroin shipments got across the Thai border without being seized. He then distributed the drug using a sophisticated commercial network.

Khun Sa always maintained that he was freedom fighter not a drug dealer. He said he supported his army with revenues earned by taxing opium traders who moved through his territory. Khun Sa reportedly detested addicts. Anyone in his operation that became addicted to drugs was forced detox in his his "drug treatment center"—a 10-foot-deep hole where junkies enduring cold turky and stayed until they had kicked.

Khun Sa controlled a large amount of territory in the Eastern Shan State of eastern Myanmar near the Thai border. After Khun Sa's arrival Ho Mong grew from a sleepy village into a bustling town with satellite dishes at many homes. Much of the money he earned from the drug trade went to maintaining a 10,000-man army and a mini-state with its own education system and hospitals. He even went as far as proclaiming himself president of the Eastern Shan State.

Khun Sa occasionally granted interviews to journalists who trekked eight hours with a mule train from the Thai border to his headquarters. In 1988, Khun Sa was interviewed by Australian journalist Stephen Rice, who had crossed the border from Thailand into Burma illegally. Khun Sa told Rice he was willing to sell his entire heroin crop to the Australian Government for about $40 million a year for the next eight years, a move that would have virtually stopped the heroin trade into both Australia and the United States overnight. The Australian Government rejected the offer, with on Australia senator declaring: “The Australian Government is simply not in the business of paying criminals to refrain from criminal activity.” In 1989, Khun Sa was charged by a New York court for trying to import 1,000 tons of heroin. By then he had proposed the U.S. buy his entire opium production.

Khun Sa's Army

Khun Sa commanded a force of 10,000-to-20,000 Shan fighters in the Mong Tai army, a private militia which was regarded as the last major revolutionary army to operate in Myanmar. It possessed modern weapons such as surface-to-air missiles, which even the Myanmar army didn't have. Many of the Mong Tai soldiers were in their teens. Thousands of Burmese soldiers were tied up fighting the Mong Tai army and the conflict depleted the government's supply of weapons.

Bert Lintner wrote on Asia Online: “His so-called "Shan United Army", SUA, was supposed to be fighting for Shan independence from Myanmar, but was, in reality, little more than a narco-army escorting opium convoys and protecting heroin refineries. In 1982, the Thai army decided to turn against him, and Khun Sa and the SUA were driven out of Ban Hin Taek. But they soon established a new base, this time inside Myanmar, at Homong, where new refineries were set up to process raw opium into heroin. [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007]

Most of Khun Sa's key aides were relatives. Important players in Khun Sa's operation included Chang Su-chan (also known as "General Thunder"), Military Operations Chief; Yang Wan-Hsuan, Security and Intelligence Chief; and Chang Ping-Yun, Comptroller General and overseer of the refining operations.

Khun Sa battled Thai forces on the Thai-Burma border and fought the Burmese army in the Shan states. He maintained that he was fighting a war of liberation for the Shan people and drug trafficking was simple a way for him to raise money to buy weapons and pay his soldiers. One Burmese colonel told the New York Times, "We were fighting him for years. We were not gaining much ground because he was well-equipped, well dug-in and the terrain was terrible. We were sacrificing too many casualties."

Khun Sa's Jungle Hideout

Bert Lintner wrote on Asia Online: “By no stretch of the imagination could Homong have been described as a "jungle hideout" - a common phrase used by the press in the 1980s and early 1990s. On the contrary, it was - and still is - a bustling town boasting well-stocked shops, spacious market places, a well laid-out grid of roads with street lights. More than 10,000 inhabitants lived in wooden and concrete houses amid fruit trees, manicured hedges and gardens adorned with bougainvillea and marigolds. Huge signs indicated where you could have your travel permits to Thailand across the border issued. [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007*]

“There were schools, a Buddhist monastery, a well-equipped hospital with an operating theater and X-ray machines—all maintained by qualified doctors from mainland China— video halls, karaoke bars, two hotels, a disco and even a small park complete with pathways, benches and a Chinese-style pavilion. Overseas calls could be placed from two commercially run telephone booths. *

“Local artifacts, historical paintings and photographs were on display in a "cultural museum", and a hydroelectric power station was being constructed, but never fully finished, to replace the diesel-powered generators then providing Homong with electricity. Other unusual construction projects included an 18-hole golf course intended for the many Thai, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Hong Kong, Malaysian, South Korean and Japanese businessmen who were then flocking to buy precious stones at Khun Sa's gem center, also located in Homong. As a young man, Khun Sa was an avid golfer, and over the years he was known to have made several influential friends on golf greens. *

“At that time, he was supposed to be the most wanted man in the world, but, in reality, he was pursued by no one. He lived in a one-storey concrete building surrounded by a well-tended garden featuring orchids, Norfolk pines and strawberry fields. But his house was also ringed by bunkers housing 50-caliber, anti-aircraft machine-guns and swarms of heavily armed soldiers. "You never know," he once told me during an interview. "I have an army, so I'm free. Look at poor [Myanmar opposition leader] Aung San Suu Kyi. She's got no army so she's under house arrest." *

Khun Sa's Friends and Rivals

Bert Lintner wrote on Asia Online: “The stream of high-powered visitors to his not-so-secret headquarters never ceased to amaze observers.Among them was Lady Brockett, an American model turned British socialite, and her husband, Lord Brockett, who used to party with Britain's Prince Charles. Khun Sa even presented the lady with a pair of ruby-studded shoes, which he had designed himself. [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007*]

“Despite all the anti-drug bravado from the U.S., Khun Sa also had influential American friends, including James "Bo" Gritz, a highly decorated Vietnam War hero who used to spend much of his time searching for American prisoners of war and those missing in action in Indochina. Gritz's trips to Homong were allegedly financed by Texas oil tycoon Ross Perot, once a US presidential candidate. *

Another American acquaintance was Shirley D Sac, a New York gem dealer and socialite who at one stage said she was going to sponsor a Shan human rights foundation. In Thailand, Khun Sa's representatives enjoyed a close and cordial relationship with that country's intelligence services, and, on the Myanmar side, his organization maintained an official trade office in Taunggyi. *

“The head of the eastern command of the Myanmar army at that time was General Maung Aye, now the second-highest ranking officer in the ruling junta. Not a single shot was fired between Khun Sa's army and Myanmar government forces while Maung Aye was in command. Perhaps those high-level contacts inside the Myanmar army influenced his decision to give it all up in January 1996, when he surrendered and disbanded his private army. He moved to Yangon with four young Shan women, who served as his mistresses in his retirement. In return, his three daughters and five sons were allowed to enter into business in Myanmar. His favorite son now runs a hotel with a casino near the border town of Tachilek, while one of his daughters is well established in business in Mandalay. Many ethnic Shan nationalists, who had joined his organization believing that he was a devout Shan patriot, were devastated by his decision to lay down arms. *

On Khun Sa’s adversaries, Lintner wrote on Asia Online: “In the 1960s and early 1970s, Lo Hsing-han was the designated "king" of the Golden Triangle. Following his capture and arrest in 1973 - also for treason, not drug trafficking, which he likewise as a government-approved KKY commander was permitted to engage in, Khun Sa filled the gap and rose to drug dealing prominence. The SUA and KMT periodically fought each other over control of the opium and heroin trade. In 1967, a SUA caravan with 16 tons of opium tried to avoid paying a KMT tax by crossing into Laos, where SUA and KMT forces battled one another and Lao warplanes and paratroopers were called in. Cease-fires were worked out between Khun Sa's Mong Tai Army, the Wa National Organization and the Shan State Army. [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007]

Khun Sa was indicted in the U.S. on drug charges and the U.S. offered a reward of $2 million for information leading to his arrest and conviction in a U.S. court. After he "surrendered" (See Below) the Myanmar ambassador to Thailand said that Khun Sa would not be extradited. Instead he would be dealt with under Myanmar law.

Attack on Khun Sa’s Stronghold and the End of His Drug Empire

Khun Sa's reign came to an end in January 1996 when a battalion of Burmese soldiers advanced on his stronghold in eastern Myanmar. He had no escape routes. Rival drug lords and Wa fighters held the territory to the east. To the north was China and to the south was Thailand, both of which wanted nothing to do with the drug lord. Also by this time the Myanmar government had reached a peace agreement with ,many of Myanmar’s insurgency movements which allowed the Myanmar military regime to concentrate their efforts on Khun Sa.

Myanmar’s military regime had begun moving on Khun Sa because they believed he had become too powerful and was too serious about establishing an independent Shan state. They were also outraged when soldiers from Khun Sa' army terrorized the border town of Tachilek in March, 1995. The raid was filmed by television crews on the Thai side of the border.

Khun Sa' problem began in earnest in 1994 when Thailand, under pressure from the U.S., shut down the drug lord’s smuggling routes around his main camps near Homong and Doilang. Thai soldiers were posted along roads, logging trails and even footpaths. Perhaps the biggest blow to Khun Sa was when 11 of his closest aides were arrested by Thai police in a U.S.-lead operation called Operation Tiger Trap. Khun Sa's lieutenants were thrown in jail and awaited possible extradition to the U.S. on drug charges. "These guys were his brokers, his brain trust," a U.S. official told Newsweek. "They handled the money, made the deals to keep the business going." In April 1995, the Burmese army carried heavy mortars and recoilless rifles on a three-day trek through the jungle and attacked Khun Sa's army, which simply melted away into the countryside and forests. After the attack, however, two thirds of his soldiers mutinied. Saying Khun Sa was more interested in the opium trade than independence for the Shan. Many of them joined a rival faction headed by two former Khun Sa generals.

In November, 1995, Khun Sa sent a tape-recorded message to the Burmese generals, saying that he was going to retire from commander of the Moi Tang army as a result of the mutiny and become a chicken farmer.

Khun Sa's Surrender

In May, 1996, Khun Sa formally surrendered to the Burmese generals. He welcomed the leader of the Burmese army with Scotch and his representatives and those of the Myanmar government exchanged gifts, posed for photographs and addressed each other with polite honorifics. Khun Sa told Lt. General Kyaw Ba before a television camera, "If I have done anything wrong in my life, please forgive me." The general said, "We must forgive him because he surrendered and has given us no problems."

A ceremony was later held in which 4,000 Mong Tai soldiers formally surrendered and a cache of weapons, including surface-to-air missiles was turned over to the Myanmar government. Eventually 12,000 of Khun Sa's soldiers surrendered and gave up 7,5000 weapons.

It is believed that Khun Sa "surrendered" to the Myanmar government to keep the Wa army from overrunning his Doilang Mountain operation on the Thai border and taking over his smuggling routes into Thailand. Burmese officials said in January 1996 that Khun Sa did not want to face drug smuggling charges in the U.S. Khun Sa left the Shan States for Rangoon, but he was never arrested by the government. Burmese officials refused to extradite him, and he lived the rest of his life in the Rangoon area with significant investments in Yangon, Mandalay and Taunggyi.

Even though the Burmese generals had vowed to try Khun Sa if they ever caught him, they essentially let him go. At first they took him into custody and disbanded his 10,000 man army It is believed that Khun Sa cut a deal with the Burmese generals to surrender in return for a promise of amnesty. It is also believed that Khun Sa was able to continue his drug business in return for ending his insurgency movement. A State department official told the New York Times the surrender appeared to be "the result of a successfully concluded peace agreement between the Burmese government and the representatives of Khun Sa." A member of Khun Sa's army told Reuters that Khun Sa "paid millions to a general to guarantee his peaceful retirement after his surrender."

Bert Lintner wrote on Asia Online: “Remnants of his 20,000-strong army refused to honor the agreement with the government and went underground as the newly formed Shan State Army (South). They are still fighting for their ideals in the hills around Homong, now a government-controlled town and still a bustling center for the local drug trade. Khun Sa's surrender and new deal with the Myanmar government was interpreted differently by one unexpected quarter. Barry Broman, the Yangon CIA station chief in the 1990s, said in an interview with the Asia Times newspaper edition on June 3, 1997, that "on their own, the Burmese [Myanmar] effected the capture of Khun Sa. They made a major dent in the drug trade and we gave them no credit." In reality, Khun Sa was never "captured"; he gave himself up in exchange for a lucrative deal for himself and his family. And there was never any "dent" made in the narcotics trade he promoted. If Khun Sa's surrender proved anything, it was that the networks that controlled the trade were able to survive even without their so-called "kingpins" [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007]

Khun Sa's Retirement

After the surrender in 1996 Khun Sa disappeared. For the most part it is believed he lived quietly in Yangon in a compound with body guards and spent much of time spoiling his grandchildren and tending his beloved angora rabbits. It was said he was in poor health, suffering froma number of ailments. All requests to extradite were refused.

Bert Lintner wrote on Asia Online: Khun Sa died on 26 October 2007 in Yangon at the age of 73. The cause of death was not known, though he had suffered from diabetes, partial paralysis and high blood pressure. He is buried at Yayway Cemetery, North Okkalapa, Yangon Division, Burma. The fact that he spent the last years of his life incommunicado inside a compound protected by Myanmar's secret intelligence service gives some indication as to how important the country's ruling junta considered it after his surrender in January 1996 to keep him isolated and quiet. [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007]

Drug Trade After Khun Sa's Retirement

Before his surrender Khun Sa, said that with him out of the picture "there will be more opium. When I am no longer here, what will be left for the people if not opium." Much of the trade from Khun sa’s drug empire is believed to have been taken over by other drug lords the same way the cocaine trade in Columbia was passed from the Medellin to the Cali cartels in the 1990s. "If Khun Sa goes out of business, "a U.N. drug officer told Newsweek, "which I doubt, two or three smaller operators quickly will rise up to take his place."

Khun Sa is believed to have kept his drug business going on a pared-down scale after his retirement, sharing his profits with some members of Myanmar military regime. He also ran a bus service and a commercial passenger airline sometimes called "Air Opium."

The price of black-market heroin shot up after Khun Sa was arrested and peace agreement was made with ethnic insurgents in opium growing border areas. After Khun Sa surrendered Burma's opium harvests jumped by 9 percent to 2,560 tons in 1996.

Bert Lintner wrote on Asia Online: “Nowadays, it's the United Wa State Army's Wei Xuegang who controls the bulk of the illicit trade. The bottom line is that the drug trade could never flourish without those networks and official complicity in Myanmar, Thailand and elsewhere. Khun Sa may be gone, but that makes little difference. It is business as usual in the Golden Triangle, only with a new cast of characters. [Source: Bert Lintner, Asia Online, November 1, 2007]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy,,, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated May 2014

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.