Ho Mong and
the People who have begun a New Life
"I want to know what comments you have heard generally on the news that the U.S. was asking for the extradition of your chief, U Khun Sa. Have you heard anything interesting?"
"I have heard comments from a certain quarter echoing these demands."
"What was the opinion and attitude of U Khun Sa and members of your MTA?"
"They have absolute faith that the Government will not hand over U Khun Sa under any circumstances, so there was no reaction. To be quite frank they paid no heed. But of course certain precautions were taken to prevent some form of mischief or damage."
"Oh yes! That reminds me. Did all the leaders of the MTA leave the Ho Mong headquarters for the city immediately after the surrender ceremonies?"
"We couldn't, how could we? U Khun Sa himself had to stay on for about another two months after the ceremonies to see that everything had settled down. Other leaders left Hoe Mong later. Some of course were given the task of remaining in Hoe Mong to oversee the welfare of MTA members and their families who had elected to settle there and also of the people in the region. Special consideration was given former MTA members who were disabled."
"U Khun Sa seems to be very much attached to the Ho Mong region."
"Of course he was. He had made the small village of Ho Mong his headquarters since 1982 approximately, so naturally there was attachment. He was also concerned about his MTA members and families, especially the disabled as well as the folks in the region. He did not wish to see their lives disrupted. He himself had done the town planning and had it built according specifications. It's only natural he should have a deep attachment to it."
"Wasn't it possible for all the MTA leaders to continue living there?"
"The Americans have been making wild accusations as it is. It would have made it worse if we had continued to live there Even now they're quite persistent in their accusations that opium is still being grown and processed in the Ho Mong region."
"Was opium cultivated in the Ho Mong region?"
"You're really being dense. Who would be foolish enough to permit opium cultivation at headquarters. In any case the soil of Ho Mong is not conducive to opium cultivation. The natural environment is such that opium just cannot flourish there. "
"O.K., then tell me a little more about Ho Mong and its surroundings."
"Ho Mong is a Shan word. 'Ho' means the 'head' or 'upper part'. 'Mong' stands for nation, country or province. 'Ho Mong' therefore means the 'Head or topmost part of the country or of the state'. It was just a small Shan village a long time ago. Mong Mong, near Hoe Mong, was designated a town and was shown on the map, not Hoe Mong. Later, all this changed after the KMT aggression."
"When exactly was headquarters established at Hoe Mong and why was this region chosen?"
"It all began around 1982/83. At the time, there was only a small village, about 30 to 40 houses. After the MTA headquarters was set up, the houses multiplied and expanded from Ho Mong to Mein Maing. This region was chosen for its strategic military position. If only there were good roads you could travel to and from Taunggyi in a day. From Taunggyi to Linkhai is just 148 miles. Then from Linkhai to the Than lwin River bank, (the Tar Sut Ferry Crossing) is 66 miles and from there to Ho Mong is just 37 miles. It's not far at all. Then the trip from Ho Mong to the border is just 45 minutes by car. From there to Mae Hong Song in Thailand is a two-hour drive. But there's not much land fit for agriculture. The surrounding environment with its thick jungle and craggy mountains made it important strategically from a military point of view. That's why it was chosen as the MTA headquarters."
"When did U Khun Sa begin rebuilding Ho Mong as a town?"
"It was about 1992. When the Armed Forces assumed state responsibilities and began to implement construction projects U Khun Sa followed suit and began new construction works in the Ho Mong/Mein Maing area."
"So tell me how he managed to do all this."
"To set up new wards and build houses for his MTA men and families, he rented bulldozers and heavy earth moving machinery from Thailand to level the land. He had new roads and houses built at a cost of over two hundred and seventy thousand bahts. He did everything systematically, in accordance with city planning rules and procedures and that was pretty expensive. The bazaar itself, built in proportion to the number of households, cost over five hundred thousand bahts. Then the old hospital was pulled down because U Khun Sa considered it too small and built a new one to replace it at a cost of over 24 million bahts. This hospital was meant to care for the health, not only of MTA members and their families, but also for the people of the region. In keeping with city requirements a sports and track field was built. Teak trees were planted to maintain the ecological balance and reforestation was carried out. A large dam was constructed which cost 12 million bahts to generate electrical power and provide water for drinking and cultivation. Then to make it a typical Myanmar city, a pagoda, a monastery, a Christian church and a school were built. He became so engrossed in construction work that he established an MTA Construction Department, actually a sort of construction team with necessary machinery and equipment, that was given the task of implementing all building projects. The work was not confined to Ho Mong alone. New roads, pedestrian paths and schools were constructed for villages in the vicinity."
"Are there many village tracts in the area? And is the area heavily populated?"
"In Ho Mong region there are 40 villages, 1364 dwellings with a population of 6388. Mong Taw/Mong Hta has 29 villages, 1605 dwellings with a population of 5230."
"Didn't you return to Ho Mong for a visit last year? What's the situation like now?"
"As soon as the exchange of arms for peace had been completed, the Government set up a Station Hospital together with a doctor and 7 health workers attached. Four rural clinics were also set up for Ho Mong village tract. As far as education is concerned there are now 7 elementary schools and one middle school. A post and telegraph office and a TV relay station are functioning now. The Agriculture Department has also provided necessary staff, tractors, other farm machinery, fertilizers and seeds for agriculture."
"What has been done for Mong Taw/Mong Hta?"
"The region now has a Station Hospital, 4 rural clinics, 9 elementary schools, one post and telegraph of fice and a TV relay station. There is also an ongoing project for land reclamation. Paddy seeds, fertilizers and seedlings for perennials have been provided for agriculture. "
"What about the handicapped MTA personnel that you told me about? You know the ones who lost their limbs. Are they still there?"
" They are at Mong Taw/Mong Hta. Since the surrender the Governmant has been providing them with rice and salt right up to the persent. There is even a plan to equip 129 of thern with prosthetic limbs. "
"That reminds me, your MTA headquarters was world famous. Foreginers were also interested in U Khun Sa and his headquarters. So, I think, now is the time to allow foreigners to come and visit, like tourists, you know. I think it will bring in an income that would be quite profitable."
"There's not much to see except for the natural scenic beauty of mountains and forests. But it might attract tourists as the headquarters of the MTA."
"Is Ho Mong the same bustling place it was when you were all there?"
"It's not such a busy place now. How can it be? The conditions are no longer the same. It is now under civil government administration and has become a peaceful place."
"And the old MTA members? How are they earning their livelihood?"
"After the ceremonies for the exchange of arms for peace, the Government issued National Registration Cards to each member together with a certain amount of cash and rations. Most returned to their villages or the villages of their spouses. In the Tantyan, Naungline, Pahpan area, former Brigade Commander U Sai Mon has gathered together a group of his men and are engaged in agriculture and livestock breeding. Then in Mon Hin/Mon Ha U Law Mar and his group who are natives of the region elected to settle there. The military authorities, with full trust in them have formed them into a People's Militia and have even equipped them with a few weapons. There are also a few others around Taunggyi/ Namsan / Kunheng who have chosen to live there. The Government has set up a new village in Kathai Kwin for some others and have given them land for cultivation."
"I have heard that some former MTA members have established business enterprises and companies?"
"Yes. They have. Some kindred souls have got together to establish enterprises like gem and mineral exploration and some are in the fishery business. Then there are those in trade as well as in the construction business. Immediately after the surrender they were of course in a state of bewilderment and at a loss as to what to do. But now they seem to have found their vocations and are quite firmly on their feet."
"Isn't the Government giving all the assistance it can?"
"Of course. In Mong Taw/Mong Hta, the authorities are helping not only the former MTA members but also the local populace in the villages to make their lives easier. They give all the economic and social assistance they can at all levels regional. sub-regional, group-wise and individuals. You can't possibly expect the government to fulfill all their needs."
"That's understandable. How can the Goverment take full responsibility, since there are 17 armed groups that have made peace and the number of people involved is enormous. You know, listening to you, I'm beginning to feel this urge to visit Ho Mong.Circumstances permitting, I think I would like to go with you one of these days to see for myself what it is like."
"My friend, you'll find our forrner MTA headquarters is set in natural surroundings of unsurpassed beauty. It will make you wish you could live there to commune with nature. You'll see when you get there. I plan to go there quite often, so come along any time you wish."
After extending his heartfelt invitation, my friend lit a cheroot and while puffmg on it, he gazed into the far distance. It was hard to tell whether his thoughts had led him back to Ho Mong or whether he was in a brown study over past memories. One thing however was clear. He was pondering deeply over something. So, reluctant to disturb him with further questions, I got up and came away as quietly as I could. But my own thoughts lingered on the MTA.
At one time the MTA headquarters was known world-wide, but it had earned not fame but infamy. Today the region is under the control of the Government and subject to the laws of the country with no involvement whatsoever with narcotic drugs. It has been totally transformed and no past shadow hangs over it. The same can be said of U Khun Sa and his men. They have turned over a new leaf and are living within the law under the protection of the Government. They are rebuilding their lives and earning an honest living in lawful trade and other enterprises in various regions. Whatever the accusations made against them by some countries, the people know the true situation and gradually the world will also come to acknowledge the truth. In my view the Ho Mong region, once notorious as a centre of narcotic production and trade, will one day become an important doorway for trade with our neighbouring country.
Maung Hpo Shoke