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THAI PAPERS ON AUGUST 2, 1999



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THAI PAPERS ON AUGUST 2, 1999

1. BANGKOK POST - ARMY ON ALERT AS PM GIVES ORDER TO CLOSE
                  CHECKPOINT
2. BANGKOK POST - IF THERE'S AN ENEMY, IT'S CORRUPTION
3. BANGKOK POST - DRUG CASH FUNDING REJECTED
4. BANGKOK POST - A SHARP FALL FROM GRACE

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ARMY ON ALERT AS PM GIVES ORDER TO CLOSE CHECKPOINT
BANGKOK POST/2.8.1999
NUSARA THAITAWAT, SUBIN KHUENKAEW
CHIANG MAI

CHUAN VISITS BORDER AREAS WITH TOP BRASS

The Third Army is gearing up for any consequences from the
government's decision to close the San Ton Du border crossing
which leads to the southern headquarters of the United Wa State
Army (UWSA), the main supplier of methamphetamine to the Thai
market.

Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, also defence minister, approved a
recommendation from Army  Commander-in-Chief Gen Surayud 
Chulanont to close the border last week. He expects the paperwork
to be completed this week, making the closure legal.

Mr Chuan yesterday visited what has been classified by the Third
Army as sensitive border areas in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.
Mr Chuan was accompanied by Gen Surayud, Kachadpai Burusphat, 
secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC), and
Prasong Soonsiri, the PM's national security adviser. "The Third
Army is getting ready for. any consequences," Mr Chuan said.
Up to 6,000 Thai workers are employed by the UWSA in various .
infrastructure construction in Mong Yawn, opposite San Ton Du, up
to Mong Hsat deeper inside Burma's eastern Shan State.

Mr Chuan told the Bangkok Post he was concerned about the
possibility of repercussions against the Thai workers by the
UWSA, but added he was confident they would be safe as their work
benefited the UWSA.

Speaking at an outpost of the Task Force 17 right on the border
and a few hundred metres from the first UWSA outpost, Mr Chuan
said the temporary border crossing at Kiew Pha Walk to Chiang Dao
district, Chiang Mai, over 40 km from San Ton Du and also leading
into UWSA-controlled area, would remain open.

He said ordinary villagers used .the  Kiew Pha  Walk crossing and
that it was  the policy of the government to encourage close
contact and trade between neighbours.

All concerned agencies have agreed that San Ton Du should be
closed . because Mong Yawn is the nerve centre of the UWSA's drug
empire, Mr Chuan said.

Besides, San Ton Du was not a permanent border crossing; it was
opened  temporarily for certain goods under the Customs Act, he
said.

Col Sutat Jarumanee, chief of staff of the 17th Infantry
Regiment, said in an; interview on Saturday the army had a list
of people who crossed into Mong  Yawn as workers of one of the
seven companies which had obtained concessions from the UWSA.

"We have records to show that shortly after these people went to
Mong Yawn, drug consignments were sent across the border," he
said.

Col Sutat  said that he believed a significant amount of drugs
were smuggled into Mae Ai in empty truck which delivered goods to
Mong Yawn.          

The army's 17th Task Force was not authorised under Thai law to
search these vehicles.

Mr Chuan said the decision to close San Ton Du would be conveyed
to the Burmese government as a matter of courtesy because Rangoon
had sent a  letter to Bangkok stating its consent for the Thai
side to open San Ton Du.

"The ethnic Wa is not our problem, drugs are. The ethnic Wa is
Burma's internal affair, we do not have any problems with them,"
said the prime minister. 

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IF THERE'S AN ENEMY, IT'S CORRUPTION
BANGKOK POST/2.8.1999

Finally they got it well, not really what they want, but still a

toy is a toy. Not really the latest on the market like everyone
else, but still better then no toy at all.

Well, after all, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Malaysia, not least
Burma, are our enemies, and we need to be prepared, because all
Asian countries surely can afford a full-blown, all out war.
After all, our economies are recovering rapidly. 

So finally we have them, the German Luftwaffe planes, the Alpha
Jets. Put them on the aircraft carrier throw the Harriers
overboard or perhaps into the Museum for Warfare.

The enemy, dear generals and minister of defence is within our co
try itself- yes, right here, right where we stand. 

It's corruption, involving the government itself, the armed
forces, civil servants such as the police, customs immigration
you name it- right  down to the level of village headmen
and the common folk. 

The drugs, heroin, amphetamines, the producers, the dealers, the
pushers:, you find them' walking beside you.

None of the corrupt financial wise guys have been caught, they're
still on  the run, although some have been re-employed after
being cleared of any wrongdoing.

But maybe now we can fight these enemies with the Alpha Jets.
Perhaps we need a bit of a break think about ourselves, our
values and goals in life, the family, lead ship, decisiveness,
self-confidence and trust, love and caring, engagement and
openness in conversation, friendship and  co-operation, less
protectionism and more objectivity. 

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DRUG CASH FUNDING REJECTED
BANGKOK POST/ 2.8.1999

Two northern non-government organisations denied an allegation by
the Chiang Mai provincial authority that they received funding
support from a suspected drug dealer.

Prayong Doklamyaw, adviser of the  Northern Farmers' Network,
said the network and the Inter Mountain People's Education and
Culture Association would reveal their accounts to the  public to
prove the allegation wag false. 

Documents distributed by the provincial hall accused the two NGOs
of having received 300,000 baht in cash  support from Laota
Saenli, a major suspected drug dealer who was arrested by the
police in Chiang Mai last week.

Mr Prayong said the documents were aimed at discrediting the two
NGOs,  which played an active role in protecting northern farmers
and hilltribe people in their fight for land ownership rights in
the North.

It has been the policy of the two I NGOs to oppose all forms of
narcotic drugs.

They said they were ready to prove through their accounts that
they have not benefited from donations from any drug dealers, he
said.

The documents quoted Laota as saying he had donated the money to
the two organisations.

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A SHARP FALL FROM GRACE
BANGKOK POST/2.8.1999
SUBIN KHUENKAEW
CHIANG MAI

THE CRIMINAL CHARGES ARE MINOR AGAINST THIS SUSPECTED MAJOR DRUG
FIGURE AFTER A RAID ON HIS HOME LAST WEEK, BUT THE OFFICIALS ARE
JUST GLAD THEY HAVE SOMETHING AGAINST HIM.

Narcotics officials believe Laota Saenli should have been
arrested long ago, but because of the peculiar circumstances in
the hills of northern Thailand over the past three decades he has
been slowed to grow powerful, almost untouchable.

Some are embarrassed that one of the biggest figures in the world
of drug  in the Golden Triangle was charged with the relatively
minor offence  illegal possession of war weapons 20 M-16 bullets
in total were seized from his house. One source said it was even
pure luck that the bullets were found.

Sentences for this offence in the past have amounted to two years
at most reduced to one year on admission to the crime, according
to a legal expert with the Fang Court. The legal books say-the
offence carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
But a senior military officer who was involved in the recently
concluded  Third Army operation to bring law and order to border
areas in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai pointed out that the

authorities were lucky to be able to arrest him.

"It's well known that the big fish never handle drugs themselves.
If we  can't get him on a drug charge, we'll go for what we
have," he said.

The real objective of Mr Laota's arrest is to curb his influence
among his people and the local officials on his payroll, and to
cut his alleged links with drug baron Wei Hsueh-kang of the
United Wa State Army (UWSA), whom he allegedly represents in
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai by handling finance and managing an
extensive network.

Mr Laota, 62, is a former colonel with the remnant Kuomintang
army (KMT). He came together with the forces of Gen Tuan Shi Wen
who settled in Mae Salong in the 1960s. 

Charismatic and blessed with the gift  of the gab, Mr Laota was
assigned to recruit whoever could be persuaded to join the KMT,
then backed by Taiwan  and the United States and still deeply ~,
engaged in the Cold War against communist China from bases in
Burma' Shan state and northern Thailand, even , after the
nationalists were defeated in  1949.

It's unclear why the Lisu, but Mr Laota skillfully integrated
into their tribe, whose members were gradually used in various
activities of the KMT. He learned their language, adopted their
culture, he continues to wear the traditional Lisu pants to this
day and he took three Lisu wives in keeping with the tribe's
polygamous traditions.

"I admit to having been a drug dealer," he told the Bangkok Post
just one day before his arrest. "Back in the 70s in Mae Salong
everyone did it.

Opium was put in sacks and loaded onto helicopters. We didn't
have to take it to the market, buyers came to us.

He also admitted to having been "linked" to Khun Sa after he took
control of the Doi Lang area in the early 1980s.

He would not elaborate but praised Khun Sa's leadership in
keeping the Thai-Shan border peaceful and safe.

"Not like these Wa. Since they settled in the area, it's only
been trouble." 

Mr Laota said he had been told that the Counter Corruption
Commission (CCC) had taken a special interest in his fortune.
Earlier this year, officials frown the Office of Narcotics
Control Board (ONCB) also searched his house but found  nothing.

"I was told that  :the authorities in Bangkok suspect have
hundreds of millions. They don't have to conduct any secret
investigation. 

They can just come and ask, I'll tell them. I don't have hundreds
of millions, I have only 76 million baht."

Mr Laota is the proud owner of a 300-rai Iychee orchard, five
houses in an up market housing estate in Chiang Mai's Muaung
district, and a mansion, petrol station still under construction
and a supermarket - all in Ban Huay-San.

Mr Laota's wealth has never been a secret in his village, nor
district, nor province, and people seem not to mind. The reason
is simple: He's a generous man, explained one Lisu woman who was
at the Fang Court to lend him moral support last Friday  when he
was transferred to court custody.

"The villagers are nothing without him, he has done so much for
us," she said in tears. "Newspaper reports that he's a drug boss
are all lies."

Mr Laota is a recognised founder of Ban Huay San in Mae Ai
district, Chiang Mai. He was the brains and financial backer of
the many projects aimed at improving the quality of life of the
local Lisu people. He has made sure he worked closely with the
district office and government agencies so they could show off
"their" work when their bosses visited from Bangkok.

Decades of work mean the village today stand out among other
ethnic villages in the district, not only for the wealth of its
residents but also for its orderliness. The roads are paved and 
clean, there is no crime and no drug addiction. A huge sign at
the entrance of the village states as its first and most
important rule, "No drugs allowed. If caught you will be caned
seven times and handed over to the authorities." 

Mr Loata also has contributed openly and regularly to
cash-strapped government agencies. Televisions, refrigerators and

other office equipment at the local police station and  district
office bear the name of his other brother, Charan.

It surprises few in Mae Ai that Mr Laota was nominated as the
best village headman two years in a row.

Mr Laota insisted during the interview with the Bangkok Post 
that he was not Wei's man in Chiang Mai but that he knew him from
the time Wei's  was still living in  Ban Yang in Fang district,
Chiang  Mai, before Wei  joined Khun Sa's  group in Ban Hin Taek. 

"How can I be  his representative? He had me jailed for nine days
in  Mong Yawn." Mong Yawn is located some 30km inside Shan state
from Ban San Ton Du, Mae Ai. It is the headquarters of the UWSA's
southern military command.

"My family had to pay two million baht," he said, insisting
however that it was not a kidnap. He was evasive about  the real
cause for his being held.

Mr Laota recalled the incident, which took place two years ago,
saying Wei sent his men to his home in Huay San to ask him to
come for tea in Mong Yawn.

"I hurried to go. I didn't even take my wallet. I had nine
cigarettes in my pocket."

After crossing the border at San Ton Du, UWSA soldiers handcuffed
him. "I then realised I had been done. I didn't think I would
survive."

Mr Laota said he was taken to a building that looked like an
ordinary house but was a prison. There he said he saw some 100
prisoners. Most seemed to speak Thai but he could not tell
whether they were all Thais.

He said he was put in a special cell a wooden cage so small he
remained curled up for the nine days he spent there. 

"I urinated there and defecated there. They fed me but I didn't
dare eat because I was afraid of being poisoned."

Eventually, the two million baht was paid and he was returned to
Thailand.
 
At the border crossing in San Ton Du, officials from Thai
agencies were waiting to welcome him back. Though it was their
duty to help Thai citizens, these officials had obviously paid
special attention to Mr Laota's fate.

Mr Laota obtained his Thai papers as a reward for his
contribution to Bangkok's war against communist insurgents in Doi
Yao and Dao Phanom in northern Thailand in the 1970s.

Mr Charan told the Bangkok Post outside the Fang Court that this
brother's arrest was politically motivated. "Why such a big issue
over such a small offence?" he asked.

Mr Laota's  arrest last Wednesday  was like a scene from a
Hollywood gangster film. Some 100 fully armed soldiers quietly
descended on his home from a nearby hill, on top of which was   
an
outpost of the Border Patrol Police, and surrounded his house for
a day and a half before moving in. 

His daughter came out of the house and asked the soldiers: "Which
unit are unit are you from?"

Mr Laota arrived in his truck  with three bodyguards. He and 
two body-guards each held a brand new automatic rifle when 
they got out of the truck and a small scuffle took place as
soldiers tried to disarm them. Mr Laota said he had just acquired
the rifles from an arms dealer for 70,000 baht each and they were
registered by the Mae Ai district officer.

The same senior military officer who was present during the
arrest said that throughout the hour-long conversation he had
with Mr Laota while his men searched the house and compound both
sides seemed to hold their breath over what could be found.

"We were lucky to find the bullets. It seems a small amount to 
many but at least we have something against him."

Mr Laota was taken into custody. He was moved in a V-150 armoured
vehicle  with another armoured vehicle in front and one behind
for extra precaution from his home to Chiang Mai's Maungng
district. Three days later, he was flown by police helicopter
back to Fang to be handed over to the court. 

Laota knows so much about the drugs trade and he also knows all
about the drugs trade and he also knows all about the  Thai
officials who are implicated," said one source.

Mr Laota seems to have seen his arrest coming. Just a few months

ago, he was dismissed as village headman  by the governor. While
he and his family thought he would be re-elected, they sensed
that official support for him was waning. Mr Charan continues to
serve as deputy headman.

In recent weeks, he was visited by senior military officers from
Bangkok. But he and his family remained confident in the network
he had built up over the years. A relative told the Bangkok Post
that he was willing to pay any sum to the Border Patrol Police,
who gave the bullets to Mr Laota, for them to testify.

"I know many officials who want the maximum penalty for him to
cut off Wei's links. But that's up to the court," said one
officer.

The  talk among officials along the order is of the possibility
of digging up Id cases against Mr Laota in order to prosecute him
for a heavier offence.

There are rumors that the US Drug Enforcement Administration
(DEA) ants him.

The ever confident Mr Laota said, "I'm not afraid of the
Americans, even Thanong (Siriprechapong) came home. I know in my
heart that I am innocent."

Whatever the sentence, Mr Laota's arrest, along with that of his
son, is seen a loss of face for a man who wielded much influence
in his community.

But Mr Laota is resilient. Whether the sentence one year or 10,
it is expected he will return and establish himself in an even
more influential position.

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               DON'T GIVE UP - FIGHT FOR YOUR RIGHTS
                    ABSDF - AUGUST 2, 1999
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