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Wanted posters are being placed in Bangkok bars and nightclubs advertising a $US2 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Wa druglord Wei Hsueh-kang.
Thai anti-narcotics authorities have launched the joint ‘Operation Hot Spot’ with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to track Wei Hsueh-kang, also a senior commander in the powerful United Wa State Army (UWSA), once the world’s biggest heroin producer.
Their eagerness to catch the ethnic Chinese kingpin, thought to be in his early 60s, has prompted the use of unorthodox tactics, such as printing his face on beer mats and on the sides of bottles in popular Thai nightspots.
He had been sentenced to death in absentia by the Thai government for his involvement in the 1987 trafficking of 860 kilograms of heroin into Thailand, but has evaded arrest and remains in Burma, reportedly moving between Rangoon, Mandalay and Shan state. His Thai citizenship was revoked in 2001.
The Thai government has also put out arrest warrants for 20 other top UWSA officials with close ties to Southeast Asia’s sizeable drugs trade.
The DEA also want him on charges of smuggling more than 400 kilograms of heroin into the US in the 1980s. The agency describes its attempt to capture Wei Hsueh-kang as an “aggressive community outreach initiative” that draws on information provided by the public, and also targets the UWSA and “other high level drug trafficking organisations within Asia”.
Information about Wei Hsueh-kang has been translated into 10 languages and is being “distributed in areas with a high propensity for drug trafficking”, the DEA said. “These Hot Spots include known trafficking routes, border crossing points, entertainment venues, shipping ports, transportation stations, and other locations used by drug traffickers.”
While the US now appears to be hot on the trail of the druglord, historian Alfred McCoy claims in his landmark 1972 book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, that Wei Hsueh-kang had previously worked as a CIA operative when the Agency was backing the anti-Mao Kuomintang (KMT) forces in Burma in the 1950s and 1960s.
He had fled to Wa state after the communist takeover in China and lived with his two brothers in the Wa Hills, all of whom worked for the KMT-CIA network along the Shan-Yunnan border. He then began to work as treasurer for the notorious Khun Sa, who led the Mong Tai Army and in his heyday from the 1970s to the mid-1990s was known as the ‘Opium King’, at one point heading the FBI’s most wanted list.
In recent years Wei Hsueh-kang has moved into Burma’s booming methamphetamine trade, for which Thailand has become a key market. Tolerance of the drug in Thailand is zero, and drug enforcement officials launch regular crackdowns on suspected traffickers.