Thursday, March 31, 2011

1967 Opium War in Golden Triangle (3)


 (Chapter 7:10 of Alfred W. McCoy’s Book The Politics of Heroin in SE Asia.)

Battle at Ban Khwan: The Challenge of Khun Sa
 
Front Cover.
General Ma had his chance as mediator in early 1967 when Generals Tuan and Ly began receiving disturbing information about Chan Shee-fu's activities in the Shan States. The KMT's radio network was sending back reports that the Shan warlord's brokers were buying up unprecedented quantities of opium in the northern Shan and Wa states.

In February, Chan Shee-fu (Khun Sa) had delivered a de facto declaration of war when he demanded that KMT caravans trading in the Wa States pay him the same transit tax that his caravans had to pay the KMT whenever they crossed into Thailand or Laos. When Chan Shee-fu's caravan of three hundred mules assembled in June 1967 it was carrying sixteen tons of raw opium worth $500,000 wholesale in Chiangmai.   

With his share of the profits, Chan Shee-fu could purchase at least one thousand new carbines and expand his army from two thousand to three thousand men, a force almost equal in size to the combined thirty-two hundred troops of the KMT Third and Fifth armies. If Chan Shee-fu's caravan reached Laos, the fifteen-year dominance of the KMT would be in jeopardy.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

1967 Opium War in Golden Triangle (2)


(Chapter 7:9 of Alfred W. McCoy’s Book The Politics of Heroin in SE Asia.)

The KMT in Thailand: Guardian at the Northern Gate


Front Cover.
Although KMT armies control about 90 percent of Burma's opium trade, they have not maintained any major bases inside the Shan States since 1961. After five thousand Burmese army troops and twenty thousand Communist Chinese troops launched a "surprise assault" on KMT headquarters at Mong Pa Liao, Kengtung State, in January 1961, most of the ten thousand KMT defenders fled across the Mekong into north-western Laos and took refuge at Nam Tha City.

Five tons of U.S. ammunition was discovered at Mong Pa Liao, and on February 16 the Burmese air force shot down an American-made Liberator bomber making supply drops to KMT holdouts inside Burma. Apparently embarrassed by these incidents, the U.S. State Department offered to assist in the repatriation of KMT troops to Taiwan, and on March 14 the evacuation began.

About forty-two hundred KMT regulars were flown from Nam Tha City to Ban Houei Sai, ferried across the Mekong, and trucked to Chiangrai, where they boarded flights for Taiwan. On April 12 the airlift came to an end, and Taiwan disclaimed any responsibility for the "few" who remained.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

1967 Opium War in Golden Triangle (1)


(Chapter 7:8 of Alfred W. McCoy’s Book The Politics of Heroin in SE Asia.)

Gen. U Ba Thein: Reaping the Whirlwind

Front Cover
Unlike many of the minority leaders who serve the CIA in the Golden Triangle region, U Ba Thein is not a mere mercenary. At the peak of his power in the mid 1960s, he was one of the most important Shan revolutionary leaders. Most of the things he did, including his work for the CIA, were designed to further the cause.

While most guerrilla leaders in the Third World would hardly consider the CIA a partner in national liberation, U Ba Thein viewed the Agency as his natural ideological ally. Most of the Shan rebels are anti-Communist monarchists, and the Burmese government they are fighting is Marxist oriented and socialistic.

The Shan rebel leaders look on the Burmese as aggressors who have expropriated their mineral wealth, but they remember the British colonial administrators with a certain fondness for having built schools and kept the Burmese at a safe distance.

Like many of his generation, U Ba Thein was educated in British schools, converted to Christianity, and learned to think of white men as his protectors. He said he was fighting for Shan independence, but he also wanted to place his independent nation under the protection of Britain or the United States.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Double UO Globe: CIA's Heroin Brand


(This article is from ciadrugs.homestead.com the CIA and Drugs Website.)

1972 CIA Inspector General Report Confirms Heroin Complicity
Excerpt of comments by: Alfred W. McCoy, professor of Southeast Asian history at the University of Wisconsin; author of "The Politics of Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade" (Lawrence Hill, 1991) and "The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia" (1971).
At "Drugs, Impunity and the CIA" A seminar sponsored by the Center for International Policy's Intelligence Reform Project Dirksen Senate Office Building, November 26, 1996.

Heroin Production

The CIA's policy of tolerance towards its Laotian allies did not change even when they began producing heroin to supply U.S. combat forces fighting in South Vietnam.

Double UO Globe 100% Heroin
In 1968-69, CIA assets opened a cluster of heroin laboratories in the Golden Triangle, the tri-border area where Burma, Thailand, and Laos converge. When Hmong officers loaded opium on the CIA's Air America and the Lao Army's commander opened a heroin laboratory to supply U.S. troops in Vietnam, the Agency was silent. In a secret internal report compiled in 1972, the CIA's inspector-general said the following to explain their inaction:

The past involvement of many of these officers in drugs is well known, yet their goodwill considerably facilitates the military activities of Agency-supported irregulars.

All this heroin was smuggled into South Vietnam where, by 1971, according to a White House survey, 34 percent of U.S. troops were addicted.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Burma's Dictatorship of Drugs


(This article is from ciadrugs.homestead.com the CIA and Drugs Website.)

Burma -- or Myanmar, more formally -- makes the Western news pages mostly for its repression of the struggling democracy movement led by Nobel peace laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is continually harassed and was recently physically attacked while trying to address her followers. 
MIS exported Heroin from these poppy fields to USA.

But those who dare to take a serious approach to drug eradication are likely to end up in deadlier trouble with the ruling dictatorship, known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council, or SLORC, which has incorporated the booming heroin trade into the permanent economy of the country.

Consider the case of U Saw Lu, a revered leader in the mountainous poppy-growing region of the Wa territory, one of many ethnic regions in Burma. Lu, a Wa prince and chairman of the United Wa State Anti-Narcotics and Development Organization, has waged a risky opium eradication campaign on behalf of his people since the SLORC seized power in a 1988 coup.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Burma in Limbo - Part 9


General Ne Win (1911-2002)
The architect and the leading manager of Ne Win’s 1958 Caretaker Government Colonel Maung Maung was a staunch anti-Communist and this was what he wrote about Communism.

“Communism is philosophically and economically wrong.  It had only made development so far (in Soviet Union and China) due to the temporary benefits of a dictatorship system. In fact the political system that was digging its own grave was not the capitalist free enterprise democratic system of government (as Carl Marx had predicted) but the one-party Communist system.”

Born a Buddhist but he became a closet Catholic after being almost converted by a Karen preacher during his long stay with the Karen as their prisoner of war in 1948. He was also strongly influenced by the Social Democrats in Israel since he had visited there and even studied how their kibbutz were run.  This was what he wrote about his Israeli dealings.

“I visited Israel every year since 1955 when I went to most western countries (USA, UK, Canada, even Japan, once France, Germany, and Yugoslavia) looking into developments in military training and equipment; so I visited Israel to observe IDF (Israel Defense Forces)’s year to year development that could be used for Burma’s own defense planning.

I made close friendships with the leaders of the IDF as well as those of Mapai Socialist Party and Mapai senior leaders accepted me as such and had many politico-social discussions on the ways and means of development of Israel and Burma.”

As his honest promise to U Nu to return Burma to parliamentary democracy Maung Maung had three major tasks ahead for his caretaker government to stabilize the country for the coming General elections.

1.      Restoration of Internal Security and Law and Order.
2.      Restoration of Economic Stability and Development.
3.      Preparations for the 1960 General Elections. 

He achieved his objectives within two years but at a cost Burma could never afford, for the tangible success of his Caretaker Government had put enough confidence of holding the absolute power again in Ne Win’s unsophisticated mind. And at the same time Ne Win’s successful Caretaker Government had prepared naturally-unsuspecting people of Burma to accept his military government again, in March 1962. 

Colonels Aung Gyi and Maung Maung: Two pillars of Ne Win's 1958 Caretaker Government.

                                                     (Coming Soon)

Burma in Limbo - Part 1 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Burmese Python - Part 2

Ancient Giant Snake (Jason Bourque/msnbc)
We backtracked our way along now familiar trails the whole night and reached a seemingly safe spot in the early morning and decided to take a meal rest. The place was a narrow grassy clearing between a high cliff and a wide but shallow creek. Many big logs together with a few big tree trunks fallen from the cliff top with their roots still intact scattered on the ground. 


The shallow and clear creek was steadily flowing from the nearby pond at the base of the curved cliff. Loudly dropping from the top of the high cliff the wide waterfall cascaded into the shallow rock pond surrounded by a dense forest of palm trees and wild banana plants and tree ferns.

As we were all sick and tired of the dried-meals we had been eating for the last five days Soe Win made a small fire of dried twigs and started cooking rice in two of our metal hangaws which were basically the personal rice cooker-cum-kettle for a Burmese soldier. The standard use of hangaw was one of many traditions handed down by the Japanese Army during the last big war. Our hangaw was the exact copy of Japanese Han-gou mess kit.

Burmese Army's Hangaw Mess-kit.
Basically it was a 6 inches high, 4 inches wide, and about 3 inches thick kidney-shaped, brown-painted, oval-bottom, heavy-gauge aluminium rice-cooker pot with lid and a tray. The tray is about 2 inches deep and same shape as the pot and lid and stored inside the pot. Inside the pot are two lines marked rice and water.

Fill the rice up to the rice line and then add water to the water line and put the lid back on and hung it above the fire by its swinging handle. Within ten minutes the rice is cooked and ready to be consumed, as simple as that. The outside-back of our army-issued flimsy backpacks had the strap -hangings to firmly tie down a hangaw.

Naw Taung also went to a great trouble boiling a nice smelling stew with a cup of split-pea and a few pieces of dried game jerky we brought along.  He also picked a hand full of green chilli and some new leaves from the wild chilli bushes nearby and added into his boiling stew with a broad grin on his face.

The aroma of fresh green chili from the stew boiling inside the hangaw on the fire reached inside my nostrils and it almost watered my mouth. I was so hungry now that I could even hear the grumbles from my overly empty stomach. Being hungry most of the time was the well established part of our soldering life in this jungle, I bitterly thought.

Log or a Snake

Smell delicious. I am very hungry now. Hurry up, Naw Taung, rice’s cooked already, extremely hungry Soe Win yelled out to Naw Taung who was busily stirring his stew in the hangaw hanging just above the fire. He then carefully lifted the hot rice hangaws from the fire by its handles with a long bamboo stick and nicely put it on a big brownish log nearby, part of which was obscured under the thick undergrowth.

Then to my surprise and Soe Win’s too, the big log moved with a sudden jerk under our tired eyes and the rice hangaws on it were violently thrown off and fell on the ground not far from where I was carelessly sitting cross-legged with the G4 on my lap. I was supposed to be the standing sentry while they were cooking. But I was too hungry to worry anymore about enemy as my mind now was rather on filling my empty stomach.

What the hell? That fucking log just moved, ..…….., it’s still moving! Soe Win was by then seriously alarmed. Jesus Christ, that is not a log. It’s a fucking snake. A big fucking python!   Yelled Naw Taung aloud as he had just turned round from his stew over the fire towards where Soe Win was and saw what was slowly unfolding right under our eyes. He immediately ran to his backpack on the ground and grabbed the stubby Kachin sword tied on it and drew the blade from its scabbard. He then rushed back to the slowly moving log-like snake.
Kachin Sword.
Kill it, kill it, before it gets away from us, shouting, I jumped up with rifle in my hands and cocked the gun and aimed at the now slowly moving yellowish-brown body of the biggest python I had ever seen. Much, much bigger than the huge one I used to go see so many times in the Zoo back in Rangoon.

Don’t shoot the body. Aim the head, Naw Taung yelled at me while quickly striding alongside the big snake’s slithering body as if he was trying to locate the snake’s head. What’s the difference between the head and body? Don’t you want me to kill the bloody thing? I yelled back at him with a slight confusion at the same time holding my fire.

There’s something in its stomach. Must be a big one, probably a boar? That’s why it can’t move well. Just shoot the head. Listen to me. I want its gall bladder and the skin too. Undamaged and dried, it will fetch good money from the Chinese in town, Naw Taung, who was quite familiar with the wild life trade in the town, yelled back at me with an obvious excitement. But where is the fucking head? I had to ask him as I still couldn’t locate the head yet let alone take a shot at it.

Giant Python

Meanwhile, Naw Taung had hacked off the small bushes ahead of him and he stumbled onto something slippery in the undergrowth and suddenly jumped out of its way. Instead of slithering away from us the big snake had just turned its head towards Naw Taung and now slowly coming out of the tall grass.

I soon realized that the giant snake was more than thirty or even close to forty foot long as its thick pointy tail, now slowly disappearing into the thick undergrowth, was still almost at the water edge. Its huge head started coming out of the grass tunnel it had made as a tight shelter in the dense undergrowth for the long digestion, conveniently under the sun, of whatever big prey it had in its enormous stomach.

When I clearly saw it the giant snake was slowly lifting its head and upper body into the air right in front of Naw Taung who was now standing seemingly or strangely hapless almost within the arm length from the snakehead. I was now about ten feet away from the heavy diamond shaped snakehead as the big snake was raising its huge head up heavily to first our waist height and then slowly to our eye level.

Its snout was initially pointing upward and I could see the yellow belly under its huge head, which was much wider than its neck. Slowly the head levelled and its orangy eyes appeared to stare right into Naw Taung’s now bulging eyes.

I first thought his attention was fixed on the snakehead but then in my horror I realized that he was now under some kind of strange spell. He just stood there dangerously so close just a couple of feet away from its swaying head and slow darting tongue, like he was being hypnotized into a trance like state.

The elongated-diamond-shaped head with flat top had two yellowish lines on its sides running horizontally across each eye. The orange eyes with no eyelids were enormous and the slits like vertical pupils were mesmerizing in a strange way. At that moment I forgot about my original idea of shooting and killing it. I just felt like I wanted to see its swaying head and darting tongue forever.

BA63 or G3 Rifle.
Shoot, Hla Oo, shoot. It’s gonna strike him. Shoot! I heard the high pitch tone of Soe Win’s loud voice from behind. Hla Oo, what’re you waiting for? Shoot it now! Shoot! he just kept on yelling at me as if I’d turned suddenly deaf.

I turned my head and saw him, shaking and trembling with terrible fear, standing knee deep in the shallow water of the creek. It appeared that snake-scared Soe Win tried to run away and ended in the pond. He was now shouting at me at the top of his voice to shoot the snake. His panicky loud voice definitely had jolted me out of the trance I was in without being really aware of its strange hold on me.

I stepped back a few steps to get a clear shot at its head. I aimed my G4 carefully at its head and fired two rounds in succession. Dang, dang, with its drumbeat like noises the highly explosive bullets blew the head away and the headless mass of upper body violently shook sideways in the air a few times and then heavily fell on the ground like a cut-down tree trunk and shook the soft ground I was standing on.

BA64 or G4 Light Machine Gun.
The tail and rest of the long body twitched and shook like the cut off tail of a sun lizard but in a much much greater scale with the accompanying noisy trampling on the saplings and tall grass around. The mighty shake went on for a while as if the headless body in the undergrowth had still wanted to slither away from us.

Eventually the life slowly vanished from every inch of its huge body and the dead snake stayed still like a log it seemed to us at the beginning. The whole length of the snake had been now out in the open as its death struggle cleared away all the grass and part of undergrowth covering its long body before.

Out of the creek, young Soe Win rushed past me to Naw Taung, who was partly showered with flesh and blood from the exploded snakehead, and forcefully shook him back to life, Wake-up, Naw Taung, It’s dead. Wake-up!

What happened? Did the snake hypnotize you? I tried to figure out what exactly happened to him. You were in a bloody trance! I asked him again as he was still standing there with a blank expression on his wide-eyed face. I don’t know. I just couldn’t move. I didn’t fall asleep. Strange though, I felt like I was completely paralysed, he replied me in a trembling voice as a result from the close encounter with the enormous Burmese python, probably the largest snake on the planet, I reckoned.

My father often told me about these big pythons and what happened to one of his cousins a long time ago when they were young and growing up in this area, he continued talking in his still shaky voice. What happened to your uncle? Was he taken alive? Young Soe Win was very interested in his story.

Almost. A huge python put him in a trance, then grabbed him by the neck and started constricting him tightly in its coils. Father and his brother saw it. So they cut the python and let him free. But it was too late and he died later. His ribs were broken and blood vessels exploded inside the body. He said it was a very slow and painful dead, he then paused, took a deep breath, turned towards me, and said, Thanks, Hla Oo. You’ve saved my life!

Not me. It was Soe Win. I was also in a trance like you and couldn’t even move. Soe Win yelled at me and his voice kicked me out of it. That was a close call. We could all have been killed, I replied him casually at the same time released the magazine and cleared the single bullet from the chamber by cocking the gun. For safety reason I didn’t want the gun in the loaded condition since the immediate danger was over.

I picked up the ejected bullet from the ground and thumbed it back into the magazine and stuck the magazine back into the gun. Naw Taung walked back to the middle of the long dead body and started feeling the bulging stomach and said, Now I have to cut open the body and get the gall bladder.

The girth of the stomach was so big I didn’t think I could encircle it with my two hands together. The diameter of the body at its widest might have been more than two ft or even 3 ft. It could be one of those giant river snakes the natives talked about in great fear. It was far too big to hide easily, even in this thick jungle, and the deep waterways might be their home and hunting ground.

Our giant snake might have grabbed and swallowed a big prey on the water-edge at a deeper part of the creek and slowly swam upstream and then nicely taken shelter in thick undergrowth under sun light to digest the prey in its stomach. But its luck ran out when young Soe Win mistook it as a big brown log to rest his hot hangaws on.

Cut the Snake Open

Instead of wildly opening the body Naw Taung was now looking for the right spot of the valued gall bladder. He then asked me, Do you know the medicinal value of a dried gall bladder? Chinese herbalists pay good money for one from a python, as he thought a boy like me from the big city didn’t know that sort of stuff. He was completely wrong.

Yeah. My grandma used it to treat any bad things to do with our eyes. She kept a small piece of it in her medicine bag and took it along wherever she went. I still remember when I was in year four; I got punched on the eye in a fight with a group of Muslim boys. It was so bad I couldn’t see through my left eye, I recalled.

She made me lie down face up in bed, grounded a tiny piece of dried gall bladder, mixed it with cold water, and dropped the liquid slowly into my eye, I said. It was so bitter I could feel the sharp bitterness at the back of my tongue once it went inside me eye. But it relieved the pain immediately and few hours later my eye was back to normal. Naw Taung definitely was surprised at hearing my own python gall-bladder story.

It could also cure stomach pains. But it’s the best for the eye sores, he enthusiastically agreed with my experience. So where is it in the snake’s body? I mean that bladder thingy! asked Soe Win who was now bravely feeling the large smooth scales on the dead snake’s cold skin.

Normally it is between the stomach and the small intestine not far from the liver. Ok, I think I’ve found the right spot, he then started to turn the belly towards him without success as the huge body was too heavy for him. We both helped him and managed to partly expose the yellow belly of the big snake. He then cut a foot long slit with his sword and the slimy and smelly stuff from the inside fell out onto the ground once he pried the slippery body wide open with the blade.
Snake's Anatomy (Merriam-Webster)
There it is. That greenish pear-shaped one still attached to the intestine, he carefully picked up the small watermelon-sized piece of dark-green offal and cut it free from the rest of the mess. He then wrapped it with the banana leaves, which were cut off by Soe Win earlier from the wild banana plants nearby, and put the whole package into his knapsack.

He then moved back closer to the body and started cutting the exposed stomach which was still intact inside the body. The rotten smell of the slimy liquid seeping out from inside instantly repelled me and the adrenalin driven excitement had suddenly gone out of me.

Kachin Sword
We should be moving on. Wasting time here on a bloody snake. I don’t like it at all, at that moment I began to worry about the trip back to base. I also had to keep reminding myself that I am no longer a boy to be playing together with them as sometimes I forgot I was the squad leader responsible for two of them too.

Don’t you want to see what’s inside the stomach? Naw Taung still wanted to hang on to his huge catch. No, forget about it. That fucking smell is killing me, right now. Let’s move! I was determined to start moving. How about our meal? Soe Win remembered the meal we were preparing just before. But I didn’t think we were hungry anymore as the fear and excitement had taken away all our hunger.

No, I don’t feel like eating at all. We will eat at the base. Just chew the jerky on the way, I insisted and they both had to give in. We killed the fire and picked up our stuff from the now very messy ground and started walking back to where the main trail was.

A lot of meat on that snake. Bloody pigs will have a big meal soon! Naw Taung murmured to himself on the way walking behind me. Pigs eat snake? Soe Win at the point heard him, turned round and asked without stopping on the track.

Yeah. Wild pigs eat almost everything in this jungle. They eat human flesh too. Long, long time ago well before we’d become Christians, our ancestors didn’t bury corpses. They left the dead in a shallow hole and wild pigs would take care of the rest. They used to say Kachin eat pigs and pigs eat Kachin, a natural way of recycling. Missionaries stopped that practice. Funny … isn’t it? On the way Naw Taung was becoming quite talkative and I had to shut him up since I didn’t want any one to hear us from the distance. Even in a thick jungle sound travels far.

It took us just over a day only to reach the base as we already knew the trails well. Our sergeant-majors were very pleased with the documents and the gun we brought back. And the old Kachin CO of our Company promised to make me a lance-corporal soon.

The story of our encounter with the enormously huge python also spread like wild fire first inside the base, thanks to Soe Win, and later even into the large Kachin village down in the valley by Naw Taung who frequented there whenever he was allowed.

Sad Epilogue

With Naw Taung’s precise directions to the site some villagers from Htawgaw went there   few days later and peeled the whole skin of the partly-pig-eaten snake and sold it to the Chinese traders at Chibwe  for a good sum of kyats.

The news of the giant python even traveled back to Myitkyina as the long roll of extremely wide snake skin re-appeared at the bustling wildlife market in town followed by the unbelievably exaggerated story of its slaying by a squad of Burmese soldiers in a jungle by the faraway Chinese Border.

M1 .30 US Carbine.
I didn’t really know how much money Naw Taung made out of the sale of the skin but I was so sure he had spent it all on Duya cigarettes as he was a chain smoker. A month later he killed one Burmese sergeant from our Company during a hunting trip, took his carbine, and joined  our nemesis KIA Battalion 202, the Second Battalion of KIA Second Brigade, which controlled the North Eastern Kachin State.

As a young Kachin he was really a KIA sympathizer from the beginning and hence they made him an officer in that battalion as the reward. With his inside knowledge of our bases on the Htawgaw Hills KIA staged a daytime daring raid on us a couple of weeks after his defection.

By using one of our secret tunnels the KIA raiding party guided by our own Naw Taung avoided the minefields and appeared inside the wire and surprised us in our own trenches. I was stabbed in the belly but I managed to finish my young attacker off as I wrote before in The Scourge of Burma – Part 2. But Soe Win was unlucky as he was shot four five times in the chest and died later in my arms.

Before he died he wept and sobbed and told me he wanted to go home to see his mother. The young boy never talked about his mother before. He was just 14 or 15 and he’d been in army for more than a year by then. I was so sad I promised him that I would take him home. Of course I was lying just to comfort him, but he was pleased and left us forever with a faint smile on his face when he died.

That afternoon we found Naw Taung’s body with multiple gunshot wounds by the tunnel exit just after the wire. Apparently he was fatally wounded in the trenches and died later while trying to escape after their surprise raid had failed miserably. All 15 of them Kachins from the raiding party were killed and we lost 22 Burmese and one Kachin soldier on our side if I still remember correctly.

Later the older men from our Company started telling me that the whole thing was because of the curse from us killing the giant python and I would soon be punished too as both Soe Win and Naw Taung were dead now. I was scared shitless I refused to go out of the base for more than a month as even the normally tight-arse Sergeant-Majors let me avoid the regular patrol duties beyond the wire.

(Lone Messenger and Digesting Python chapters from my book Song for Irrawaddy were based on this encounter.)

Friday, March 18, 2011

Burmese Python - Part 1



Burmese pythons are prospering in the Florida’s Everglades and the American authorities are erecting the draconian laws to stop them from propagating farther in the famous swamp of USA. There are thousands and thousands of up to 6 meter long Burmese pythons in the Everglades and they are even catching and swallowing large alligators the American icons.
Alligator in Python's hold (NPS Photo)
Pythons originally from Burma have often been released into the Everglades by owners when the snakes became too big and menacing for them to handle. So with the new laws the authorities are now trying to stop the importing of these dangerous snakes for the exotic pet trade.

The Americans haven’t seen a 10 meter one so far like I once encountered in one of the upstream creeks of May Kha River in the rugged Kachin land of Northern Burma. The snake was so dangerously huge I still have nightmares of it. (Burmese pythons living in the remote waterways can grow to a gigantic size as they have no natural predators except us humans hunting them for their valuable skins.)
Holding down a 5 M long Python (NPS Photo)
That was in mid 1973 and back then I was just a teenager but a squad leader in the army in Kachin Land. Our Battalion Forward Command was at the fortified bases on the Htawgaw Hills on the eastern side of May Kha River not far from the Chinese Border.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Semi Democracy Burmese Style (5)


(Electricity generation, prices, and subsidies in backwater Arakan State.)

The ninth day of first Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) was devoted for another question and answer session. The session began at 10 in the morning and ended at 45 minutes past 1 in the afternoon.

Out of six questions that day the most interesting question was asked by Ye Htun from Arakan State Sandoway (Than-dwe) Constituency. He question was about the exorbitant electricity rates being charged on the people of Arakan State. And the Minister for No. 2 Electric Energy ex-Major-General Khin Maung Myint answered the tricky question.
Ye Htun from the pro-junta USDP (Union Solidarity and Development Party) first stated that since 2003 the electricity generation and distribution in the Arakan has been implemented township wise by the Township Electricity Committees. Right now a unit of electricity (a kilowatt-hour) is costing the people of Arakan State from 400 to 1,000 Kyats depending on where they live.

But, he added scornfully, all the Government facilities in the State are being charged a much cheaper governmental rate and it basically means that ordinary people are heavily subsidizing the governmental usage of electricity since people have to bear the actual total cost of electricity generation and distribution in the State and ended up paying much higher electricity rates for their own domestic and industrial usages.

What Ye Htun cleverly implying was that the poor people of his state are being forced to pay for the electricity used by the military installations and other government departments in the State. And most of the government facilities in the Arakan State are the major army bases and countless number of battalion-sized army posts to guard the ongoing construction of massive China’s Trans-Burma oil and gas pipelines and Maday Deep Sea Port near Kyauk-phyu.
So he asked if the Government has any future plan to lower down the electricity rates to the levels of other States and Divisions and if they have please let the Parliament know how and when.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Irrawaddy & DVB: The Exile Media Industry


(Blaming it as a hacker attack Irrawaddy later removed this news report.)

Exiled Media outlets lose out on funding thanks to NLD
By THE IRRAWADDY Friday, March 11, 2011

Thailand based Irrawaddy Media Group and Norway based Democractic Voice Burma (DVB) claimed that they have lost over one third of their funding budget since the release of Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung Sann Suu Kyi from house arrest last year. This has lead to both media groups having to cut some of their programs and circulations.

Aung Zaw, pony-tailed Chief Editor of Irrawaddy Media Group, told Thai daily newspaper, Matichon during an interview that Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD as the main curlprit for drastic reduction and cuts in their funding by international donors. He accused Aung San Su Kyi of lobbying to donors to fund NLD's civil society and humanitarian projects instead of funding exiled media outlets. He said “Thanks to her request Irrawaddy lost over 1 Million US Dollars in funding and DVB lost 500,000 Euros from their annual budget.”
However, during a telephone interview yesterday, NLD spokeperson Nyan Win vehemently refuted Aung Zaw's accusations and explained that the NLD has been planning to implement its own media outlet for a while now and that it will no longer be depending upon exiled media groups to relay their message to the outside world.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Semi Democracy Burmese Style (4)


(This episode details the Question Time in the People Parliament.)

The sixth day of first Pyithu Hluttaw (Lower House) was devoted for the question and answer session. The session began at 10 in the morning and ended at 20 minutes past 12 in the afternoon.

The first question was asked by Aung Htun Tha from Arakan State Myauk-U Constituency. He asked if the Government has any plan to list the ancient site in Myauk-U as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Minister for Culture Khin Aung Myint replied that the ancient Pyu city sites of Thayekhittaya, Beikthanoe, and Hanlin were already in the process of listing through World Heritage Committee in 2010. Other ancient sites will be submitted to the UNESCO one by one every year according to their order in the historical time frame and so Myauk-U’s turn is coming soon.

Unjust Appropriation of Farmland

The second question was asked by Aung Zin from Rangoon Division Pazundaung Constituency. He stated that for many centuries Burma had had various forms of traditional ownership of farmland but in 1963 the basic Socialist principle of the State Ownership of all agriculture land was laid down (by Ne Win’s military Government).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Min Aung Hlaing, Bo-gyoke-kyi, the new C-in-C

Major General Min Aung Hlaing (2008).
Today Myanmah-ahlin Newspaper has officially confirmed for the very first time the ultimate winner of deadly power struggle among the next generation younger generals of Burmese Army. The winner is Min Aung Hlaing who was reported very first time in his new rank as the General, no longer a Lt. General. In the news he was accompanying SG Than Shwe inspecting the 48th Gem and Precious Stones Emporium held in Nay-pyi-daw.

Only 54 years old he is relatively very young for his position and I am afraid we'll be seeing a lot of him at the epicenter of Burmese politics for a long time. I have known him since our high school days together at the Central Boys High (State High School No. 1 Latha) in Rangoon and, this one I have to add seriously, he has a very attractive kid sister.


He is a decent man and a capable officer and an efficient administrator and I wish him good luck in reforming our extremely-poor Burma into a decent democracy and thriving economy. This is a short biography of him and the translated extract of one of his writings.

**********************

Min Aung Hlaing basically grew up in the middle of Rangoon. His father U Khin Hlaing, a good friend of my parents, worked as an engineering official for the Government Construction Corporation and they used to live in a large comfortable apartment directly opposite the Central Fire Station on the Sule Pagoda Road in Central Rangoon.

After his matriculation from the Central Boys High in March 1972 he became a Law major student in RASU (Rangoon Arts and Science University). While he was a Third Year Law student and a  seasoned Corporal of UTC (University Training Corps) he was admitted into the Intake 19 of DSA (Defense Services Academy) in Maymyo (Pyin-oo-lwin Town) in January 1974. He graduated from DSA in December 1977 and became a Second Lieutenant in Burmese Army.

His early postings as a junior officer and later a mid-ranking officer were mostly in the infantry battalions of famous LID-88 (Light Infantry Division 88). The Divisional Commanding Officer of LID-88 in early 1980s was Colonel Than Shwe who eventually became the Senior General and the Chairman of SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council) which was renamed later SPDC (State Peace and Development Council).

My dear friend Min Aung Hlaing has always had the reputation as a brave fighter and a no-nonsense straight talker. He truly is a battle-hardened warrior of brutal Burmese Army. He is also a serious scholar and a gentleman too.

He finally became a Brigadier General and the Commanding Officer of LID 44 based in Kyaikhto in Mon State. August 2003 saw him transferred to DSA as the 19th Rector. After three years in DSA he was promoted to a Major General and the CO of Burmese Army Western Regional Command (Na-pa-kha) controlling the Arakan State bordering Bangladesh.

He was moved to the hot spot of Golden Triangle as the Commanding Officer of Triangle Regional Command in 2008 and eventually promoted in early 2009 to a Lt. General and  Chief of the Second Bureau of Special Operations (BSO 2) controlling three Regional Army Commands (Northeastern, Eastern, and Triangle regional military commands).

There he led the successful military operations against the National democratic Alliance Army (NDAA) in the Kokang area of Shan State in August 2009.

He became the acting joint chief of staff of the army, navy, and air force in June 2010 and now he is the General Commander-in-Chief of Burmese Armed Forces.

This is the translated extracts of his article “From Past and Present to the Future” written as the Rector of DSA in the DSA Golden Jubilee Magazine in August 2004.

19th Rector of DSA Brigadier Min Aung Hlaing (2004).
“August 25 of 2003 in the town of Kyaikhto. Rain was coming down heavily that day. My Division was back from the field operations and in the middle of reorganizing and training. 

I was in a meeting discussing a regional development project when my General Staff Officer came in and reported to me that I was just transferred to DSA as the Rector.

The order had just come out and I was surprised and at the same time really happy with my new posting. Even though I was born and raised by my natural mother I was reborn again in DSA and given a chance by DSA to serve in various levels of the army.

Was it the unexpected great opportunity for me to serve at this great academy producing the future generations of army officers? Unexpected twist of my fate? From a warrior-Divisional Commander to the gardener-Rector nurturing new generations!

I arrived at DSA on 31st August and the first thing I immediately noticed were the Cadet Statue at the main gate and the two-lane, wide asphalt road into the huge Campus. And there was a wide six-lane asphalt road to the Cadet Dormitories. Back when I was in the DSA intake 19 during 1974-77 that road was just a narrow ordinary road.

And the graduating parade ground then was just a grassy ground with small timber podium. Now the 1500 ft long and 500 ft wide parade ground had a velvet-green grass surface with the giant DSA emblem at one end and the 4,500 guest-capacity stand for the dignitaries and the attending families of the graduating cadets at the front. DSA had changed a lot since I was here last in 1977.

            *****************

*****************

Established on the 1st August 1954 the DSA is now 50 years young. While thinking about the past I also believe that the progressive changes in the present will build the strong and capable modern Army for the future. Together with that army we have the national political tasks in our hands to build a peaceful and modern developed nation. And I believe we will march ahead with that nation building duty on our shoulders.”

Good luck, Min Aung Hlaing, my dear old friend!

Now you are the Chief of Burmese Army and you can do what you have promised yourself to do all your life since we were very young. To rebuild Burma into a peaceful, prosperous modern nation. The whole brand new Burma for all of us!

-----------------------------------------27 March 2012 Update---------------------------------------

(First of the following videos was General Min Aung Hlaing at the Burmese army's annual war game and the second was him inspecting the operation of military's Groundsheet and Boot Factory in the town of Meikhtila.)






When I first saw these videos they horribly reminded me of Ne Win's televised inspections of state-owned factories during the eighties. Min Aung Hlaing now seems to have a serious concern for his personal safety and the evidence is his uzi-totting bodyguards in full body-armour following him and closely guarding him even in an army facility. 

I just hope and pray that my old friend is not abandoning his noble ideals and turning into a paranoid-tyrant like that bastard Ne Win we all hate.



-----------------------------------------3 April 2012 Update---------------------------------------

Today Myanmah Ahlin newspaper printed Min Aung Hlaing's new rank very first time as Vice-Senior-General instead of just General.  So who is the Senior General? Hopefully not old SG Than Shwe. Also just look at the following photos. MAH seems officially placing himself at the No.4 of Burmese Government hierarchy.


VSG Min Aung Hlaing beside the President and two Vice-presidents (3 Apr 2012).
General MAH behid the President and VP TAMO last year.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Where Rangoon River Meets the Sea

(This story  from hubpages was written by a Filipino sailor.)

Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) River in Myanmar (otherwise called as Burma) have many woven tales that are waiting to be heard. The military rule literally killed the tourism industry in the country. The house arrest of former lady president Aung San Suu Kyi enraged her followers and supporters and caused the disarray and apathy of the public.

The displacement caused by military junta crowded the river with boat people seeking temporary comfort onboard commercial vessels. Most Burmese women nowadays are engaging in sex trade and the prospective customers are usually sailors.

Flashback

The April of 2001 saw our ship anchored to the delta formation at the mouth of Yangon river. More than ten members of customs and marine authorities of the military junta of Myanmar (now the union of Myanmar) boarded our panamax-type of tanker vessel (more than 39,000 gross tonnage deadweight). After signing important papers, some proceeded to the provision room and got some items ranging from meat to dairy products like milk and cheese). They’re backpacks were full when they left the ship.

We were about to load bunker fuel from their port but were not allowed to go ashore. Instead Myanmar girls boarded our vessel for ten days. Different stories of their lives were retold in a staccato English and how they thrive as boat people embarking from ship to ship.

Boat People
Military rule displaced many innocent people in Myanmar, especially those who support their lady president all the way.

Our captain gave us the go signal to have a girl partner for the next ten days. I didn’t want to because I was afraid to contract a STD (sexually transmitted disease), but he persuaded me to have one. He had chosen the most beautiful from them, but, my co-Filipino sailors like the girl that captain gave me.

Thilawar Port in Rangoon.
Well, as a good subordinate, I said to the girl to go with my friend who has more money to spend for rest of their stay. I had to settle to other girl who’s more matured than me. My captain explained that those scenes were typical to all seafarers. It’s up to me to control my urge whenever women lure sailors to indulge in paid sex.

True to captain’s advise, I nearly had an STD when the condom failed to fit in my organ because my girl immediately inserted my organ to hers’. The good thing was it resulted only to UTI (urinary tract infection) Girls are more prone to UTI than boys. Other sailors who didn’t use protection contracted STD, like syphilis because others have already the virus in their bodies. They explained that once you use a girl with an infection, like HPV (human papilloma virus) it will trigger your old disease to come out.

Sex encounters lasted only for three days. Even the garbage of our captain had many used condoms, relayed by our steward. Next days were spent by girls helping chores in the galley, doing karaoke and having night cap at the ship’s saloon.

You will pity these Myanmar girls because they’re not brave enough to raise their voices for the change they’re wishing for their government system. They have to stay in the waters of Yangon in order to be safe, for a while.

My new woman-friend told me that she lost her husband during the attacks of military men in their village. She had nowhere else to run because his only child (a boy) was captured by those abusive men. She had to save money as much as she can in order to escape (again) the brothel she’d been in. Their mama-san or pimp (an old lady) always get all their money. She cannot even buy new undies, showing her worn out ones to me.

I told her that what they’re experiencing also happened in my country, Philippines. Many activists were put into jail and oftentimes kill or declared missing during the time of Marcos regime. I consoled her that hope is as near as the rays of the sun. As long as the day still exists, it will replace the darkest nights in their lives.

Note: One Filipino oiler suffered a ruptured appendics during our stay in Myanmar. He had to be operated in the local hospital for appendectomy. Although, medical practitioners said that they lack modern medical equipment, they tried their best to give comfort to their newfound patient at bay.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Semi Democracy Burmese Style (3)


(This episode is Than Shwe legally granting a slush fund for himself.)

Just before the recently elected Union Parliament (Pyidaungzu Hluttaw) was initiated on January 31 the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) promulgated a law establishing a slush fund for the Commander-in-chief of Burma’s armed forces on January 27.


By this law Than Shwe generously granted himself unlimited amount of money out of State Budget to use for whatever he fancies. This is the English version of that law called The Special Fund Law.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Burma's Ho Chi Minh Trail (1)


HISTORY of modern Burma is basically the seemingly-never-ending series of  brutal conflicts between the Communists and the Socialists. Started out as the ideological and personal conflicts between CPB Than Htun and BSP Kyaw Nyein it has morphed into the  long-running deadly civil war between the Burmese Communists and the Burmese army.

Even after Kyaw Nyein was permanently removed from the political stage by 1962 coup General Ne Win kept the civil war alive by rapidly expanding his army just to exterminate the CPB. But because of massive Chinese support of men and arms after the deadly 1967 race riots in Rangoon’s Chinatown the CPB forces at one stage totally controlled the large Burmese territory east of the Salween River.


CPB called that so-called liberated area North-Eastern War Region. Their strategic plan to win the long-running civil war was to link their mainly-ethnic forces in the NE War Region with the totally-Burmese CPB Headquarters on the Pegu-Yoma Ranges at the centre of Burma.