BANGKOK (Reuters) - Notorious Golden Triangle drug lord and one-time Shan guerrilla leader Khun Sa has died in Myanmar’s main city after a long illness, a top rebel leader and a former associate said on Tuesday.
“He died on October 27 at his home in Yangon,” Colonel Yod Suk told Reuters by telephone from his jungle headquarters on the Thai-Myanmar border.
However, a Western diplomat in Yangon said Khun Sa’s now-estranged former allies might have received incorrect information.
“We have no knowledge of his death. We can’t confirm that he has died,” the diplomat said.
Yod Suk, whose Shan State Army (South) split from Khun Sa’s opium-fuelled Mong Tai Army a decade ago, said the 74-year-old had been suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure.
After decades of guerrilla war funded mainly by proceeds of the heroin trade from his part of the Golden Triangle straddling Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, Khun Sa threw in his lot with Myanmar’s ruling generals and signed a peace deal in early 1996.
Since then, the half-Chinese, half-Shan Khun Sa was thought to have been living a life of luxury under government protection in Myanmar’s most populous city, despite a $2 million price on his head from Washington.
Khuensai Jaiyen, a former guerrilla who acted as Khun Sa’s face to the outside world for 10 years before a 1994 split, said few in the Shan resistance movement would be mourning the death of a man they saw as a traitor.
“He was a man with lofty ideals. He thought of becoming the liberator of Shan State,” Khuensai told Reuters. “But when the people he was supposed to be leading or liberating didn’t accept his leadership, he turned his back on them.”
Khuensai said Khun Sa had been cremated on Tuesday in Yangon, the former Burma’s main city, and his ashes would probably be scattered around the Bay of Bengal rather than being returned to his ancestral home in the Shan hills of eastern Myanmar.
“He thought that his tomb might be destroyed,” he said.
Born Chang Qifu, Khun Sa was the son of an officer in the Kuomintang Chinese nationalist army and an ethnic Shan woman.
At the height of his powers in the 1980s, he led 20,000 men in the largest private army in what was still called Burma. U.S. narcotics officials estimate he was responsible for at least half the heroin flowing out of the region.
The Golden Triangle then was by far the biggest supplier of heroin to the world. Washington branded him the “Prince of Death”.
“He has delivered as much evil to this world as any mafia don has done in our history,” U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Thomas Constantine said in 1994.
Khun Sa, however, said he was merely the scapegoat of a failing U.S. war on drugs.
“I only wish the drug agencies would do their jobs honestly, that they would arrest the real culprits and seize the real drugs,” he told Reuters the previous year.
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