On the road to peace? and on the road to recovery


On the road to peace?

Despite suggestions that they were non-starters, peace talks between the Karen National Union and the Burma military regime have taken place, according to both government and independent sources. An initial but inconclusive round happened in February in Kayin state, followed by subsequent discussions in March. The KNU is the last insurgent army openly fighting the Rangoon regime. Is peace at hand? Representing the government is the influential Col. Kyaw Thein, a member of junta-strategist Lt.-Gen. Khin Nyunt's inner coterie - so you might think a deal is in the offing. But while the remnants of the KNU might be ready to settle their decades-old battle for an ethnic homeland, the bigger question is: Do the Burma and Thai military establishments want to lose such a lucrative enemy? Burma's military eats up 41% of the national budget and the Thai army will look positively under-employed if it doesn't have a Karen-induced refugee crisis along the Burma border to deal with. Talks may have begun, but don't expect a resolution soon.

On the road to recovery?

Wei Xue-gang, one of the key figures in the Golden Triangle's booming drugs trade, may be suffering from either cancer or AIDS, Thai intelligence sources who closely monitor United Wa State Army (UWSA) activities told Asiaweek. Wei, in his early 50s, commands the UWSA's southern forces which control the narcotics traffic along the Thai-Burma border. He was recently spotted in the Burma border town of Tachilek where he has apparently been receiving medical treatment. While there, he refused to meet with business associates, according to the Thai intelligence officers. Wei's illness puts another question mark over the future of the UWSA, which is allegedly heavily involved in methamphetamine and heroin production - permitted under a cease-fire agreement with the Yangon Junta.

The ongoing relocation of up to 70,000 ethnic Wa and Chinese villagers from the UWSA's northern areas to the Thai border is causing major strains within the group. Last month, overall boss Pao Yu-chang was the target of a failed assassination attempt while visiting Tachilek. Rifts within the UWSA are pitting northerners against southerners and Wa nationalists against the leadership, which has turned the party into the world's largest illegal drug-trafficking organization.