Khun Sa


Ok so I went to interview Khun Sa back in 1989 in Bin Hi Teak, but he was routed when I got the by the Thia. Military.  I thought he was an awesome dude and his people loved him as I interviewed some of his men evident on my photos.

The death of Burmese warlord Khun Sa severs one of the few remaining links between Washington’s Central Intelligence Agency and the trafficking of heroin out of Southeast Asia’s famed Golden Triangle.

Khun Sa apparently died last Friday in the Burmese commercial centre and former capital, Rangoon, aged 73 and after a peaceful retirement since he surrendered to the country’s ruling junta in 1996.

Many believe he got amnesty in return for handing over to Burma’s ruling generals his opium poppy growing and drug production empire that at one time provided 60 per cent of the heroin sold on United States streets.

But Khun Sa never considered himself a drug lord.

He thought himself a liberation fighter for the freedom of his people, the Shan of the forest-covered mountains of northeastern Burma. Poppy growing and drug trafficking were unfortunate necessities, he held, to feed and clothe his people, and buy arms necessary to fight Burma’s military regime.

He even wrote directly to several U.S. presidents offering to sell the Golden Triangle’s entire crop of heroin to them to keep it off American streets while still sustaining his liberation struggle. He never received a reply.

Khun Sa was a much loved by his people as a great nationalist hero. He was loathed with equal ferocity by successive U.S. administrations and in the late 1980s a $2-million US reward was offered for his capture.

It was not always so. Back in the 1960s and ’70s, Khun Sa’s empire fitted neatly into a CIA operation to fund Southeast Asian hill tribe militias to attack North Vietnamese supply routes to the war in South Vietnam.

In one of the CIA’s more foul operations, its agents used its Air America airline to fly out Golden Triangle heroin. The drug was sold to corrupt South Vietnamese and Thai politicians who then peddled it to GIs in South Vietnam and a booming population of addicts in America.

There are some credible reports that, because of Khun Sa’s access to southern China, the CIA continued supporting him well after the war in Southeast Asia had ended and even after the U.S. government had put a price on his head.

Khun Sa, meaning “Prince of Wealth,” became the nom de guerre of a boy born in 1934 to a Chinese father and a Shan princess mother. His name was Zhang Qifu and he came of age in the tempestuous years after the Second World War when the Chinese Communists ousted the last troops of the old Kuomintang nationalist government from Yunnan province.

The Kuomintang’s 8th and 26th Armies established themselves in northern Burma where they carved out a principality financed by opium production and supplied by regular air drops of arms from American planes.

As a youth Khun Sa joined the Kuomintang military, but then switched sides to Burmese government militias charged with halting the opium trade.

Once he had gathered an army of about 800 followers, Khun Sa declared himself a Shan nationalist and set up his own drug-producing principality. This brought him into collision with and defeat by the Kuomintang, as a result of which he was captured and imprisoned by the Burmese government in 1969.

Khun Sa was released in 1976 when his followers kidnapped two Russian doctors and demanded their leader’s freedom in exchange.

He moved to the wilds of northern Thailand where he established his base in the town of Baan Hin Taek where he was protected by his well-armed Shan United Army of about 10,000 men.

This began the glory days of his control of the Golden Triangle drug trade. But in 1982, after a long and arduous campaign, the Thai army and airforce pushed the Shan United Army back into Burma.

Khun Sa simply set up a new headquarters just inside Burma at Ho Mong from where he controlled the world’s heroin trade for nearly two decades.

My friend, Bertil Linter, who is the great expert on the Golden Triangle and who interviewed Khun Sa several times, says the warlord was basically an illiterate thug.

But Khun Sa told another friend, Denis Gray of the Associated Press Bangkok bureau, “They say I have horns and fangs. Actually, I am a king without a crown.”