Why Did U Khun Sa's MTA Exchange Arms
 for Peace


Part IV

The fact that many of the Shan members defected from the MTA in June 1995 did not weaken the MTA to the verge of collapse. At the time that the MTA exchanged arms for peace, it still had a force of about 15,000. So if U Khun Sa had elected not to surrender but carry on the fight, he may not have been able to establish military superiority but he could certainly have maintained the status quo for a certain period of time. He had the manpower and firepower with an adequate arsenal of weapons and ammunitions. But I'm now convinced that, as my friend had  pointed out, this was a period in his life when a desire to exit life on a favorable historical note was incubating in his mind. Moreover, he had become convinced that the Government was acting in good faith. Added to these positive considerations was the fact that he was having to contend with the aftermath of the recent, unprofitable military losses and the divisiveness brought on by the Shan defections. All this I'm now sure, came together to a point that caused him to decide to exchange arms for peace. But this was for me, not yet a complete picture, for I still needed to know the means by which this complex objective was accomplished. According to my friend, there were those in the MTA who approved of this action and others who did not. Moreover, the majority of the MTA members learnt of this decision only before the actual exchange of arms for peace. Yet the surrender took place without a hitch with troops stationed in distant places, docilely coming in to give up their arms, one group after another. I was eager to know how this had been accomplished so smoothly. It prompted me to question my friend on this matter when next I met him. 

"The other day we had to cut short our conversation just when my interest had reached a high pitch. So go on please with how the exchange of arms was so peacefully and successfully effected. " 

"I must say you are now fully qualified to earn your livelihood as a journalist. You know how to conduct an interview.  Ha! Don't worry, I'll tell you. You will come to understand how difficult it was only if I explain to you how it was achieved. After  U Khun Sa became convinced that this course of action was right he chose and contacted a citizen whom he could trust and who could also approach the Government as mediator. " 

Who was this person and when did U Khun Sa choose him as facilitator?''

  
Defence fortifications at Lwe Lan.

Don't rush me my friend. You sound as if you're interrogating someone accused of a crime. He was a merchant from Tachilek and a native of Lwe Maw. U Khun Sa stayed in his house and attended school when he was leader of the Lwe Maw Defence Militia, someone he knew intimately. So U Khun Sa wrote to this person and they met at the Headquarters. That was about 2 years before the actual surrender. He told this man then to think of necessary ways and means just in case the MTA like the other armed groups, should decide on a peace accord with the Government at some time in the future." 

"The surge of the Government's peace initiatives was really over whelming, wasn't it? "

"Definitely. As I've often told you, although U Khun Sa did attack Mong Kyut and other places at the instigation of others, the idea of " peace " had occupied a corner of his mind. Having had such forethought, once he had made up his mind in 1995, he summoned this mediator to Headquarters and gave him a letter written by U Khun Sa himself, to  be delivered to top military leaders. ''

"What did the letter say?"

"The letter stated that he wished to give up his arms to the Government and how he now wished to lead the life of an ordinary citizen. He also asked this mediator to relay some verbal messages. We came to know of all these developments later. At the time we didn't know a thing. It was all very hush, hush." 

"Of course! It would have done no good if such news had leaked out.

"The mediator was also a very circumspect and capable person. He contacted the Military Intelligence and delivered both the written and verbal messages without the news leaking out. He made an all out effort to reach the Secretary  1. "

''Did this start the ball rolling for the surrender?"

  
Defence fortifications at Lwe Lan.

''It wasn't that simple. This was no child's play. It was a crucially important matter, so contact only through the mediator wan' t enough. Later U Khun Sa's most trusted lieutenants accompanied the mediator to meet with representatives of the Directorate of Military Intelligence. Meetings and discussions were held at various appointed places. So from the time contact was made till the surrender took place, there was a lot of comings and goings and many more discussions took place during the five months before the actual surrender." 

"Where was the need for such prolonged discussions? It was a case of just laying down arms."

"Now you're being naive ! U Khun Sa was notorious world wide as a drug king. No doubt he was surrendering, but the Government was sure that there would inevitably be criticisms and attacks from international sources as well as from within the country. There was also a possibility that some groups might attempt to disrupt the plans made."

"Yes, right. But let me interrupt and ask you a question. You know, the common citizen's speculation is that U Khun Sa must have surrendered so easily because of some give and take agreement with the Government. So what about that?"

"There was no such thing my friend. Since contact was made and discussions began the Government stipulated three conditions that were not by any means negotiable.

One: "All arms must be surrendered".

Two: "The MTA group must be dissolved and at no future time was any member to have any links to the drug trade." and, Three: "All MTA members were to strictly abide by and live according to arrangements made by the Government." The Government made it clear that the exchange of arms would proceed only if the MTA could meet these conditions." 

"So what pledges did U Khun Sa make? "

"U Khun Sa not only wrote letters, he even made a video film. He stated that unlike the other armed national groups that had made peace, he would set an example by handing over unconditionally, all the men and arms of the MTA to the Government and that he had arrived at this decision only after consultations with his top aides. He also said he wished to expedite the surrender as soon as possible before other internal and external factions had a chance to sabotage the whole plan." 

"In that case why did it take so long? Why didn't he just do it and be done with it?"

"Trust and confidence have to be built up on both sides. It's not a matter of a small clique of 4 or 5 members who can just up and surrender after arriving at a decision. This was a large organization of over 15,000 men. There was also some divisiveness over racial issues. Hostilities were still raging with the ' Wa' group in the Lwe Lan region and also with government troops scattered over a wide area. We also had to seriously consider possible interference and intrigue by foreign countries hostile to us. If we did not make meticulous plans and arrangements there would have been confusion and  chaos."

"Yeah! I suppose that's true. I understand and agree with what you have said so far. But what do you mean exactly when you use the terms external manipulation and intrigue." 

"Explaining that is bound to take up some time. To put it briefly, our country does produce black opium. That you already know. But we did not invent the method of processing heroin. Our people did not have the technical know-how to process heroin. The white Chinese (Kuomintang) started the whole business. Nor does our country produce the necessary chemicals for processing heroin. So think about it. Who would be involved in the refining of opium?" 

"They must be foreigners."

''Right you are. Now take your thinking a step farther. Would it be easy for the people in our country to come to our jungle hide-outs to set up opium refineries? Who would come? only people from some country adjacent to us would come over for such an undertaking. Moreover they can buy all the chemicals they need and want in their own country and then smuggle the stuff in. Next, the shortest and easiest routes to transport the heroine produced to western countries are also on their side of the border. Isn't that so?"  "Mm...mm. But I've heard that this particular country gets the most assistance and aid from America for narcotic drug control ."  

"It is what we call a 'double cropping', or having your cake and eating it too. Do you understand me? As for our country, the only profit we get is a bad name. The real profits are reaped by the scoundrels of this neighbouring country. We sell the black opium and they come along with the capital to set up heroin refineries. We provide them security in the border areas under our control and for giving them protection we are paid certain percentage as fees and revenue. When this black opium turns "white" its price has gone up. Then through their contacts and agents this heroin is distributed. So tell me. Who gets the greater profit?"

"This is really an eye-opener. I now understand what you mean."

"They keep saying its Khun Sa's group, its Khun Sa and his gang and point the finger at us. Their country benefits by way of foreign assistance for narcotic drug control yet the real profiteers are their citizens who are involved in the drug trade. But if we were no longer around it would hurt their operations. So if they had found out about our plans to exchange arms for peace there's no telling what they would have done. One couldn't be sure they would not have tried to thwart our plans."

"Yes, that's true."

"Then there are those western bloc nations yelling at the top of their voices about the drug king. Yet it was people from this country who made frequent visits to our headquarters. That's for sure. You must have read about how the CIA was the real manipulator behind the drug scene. So who could be sure these western bloc nations weren't doing a double-deal?" 

"Yes - you've really cleared this up for me."

"That's why U Khun Sa, from the first time he established contact with the Government until the time of the surrender, kept everything under wraps. I think the Armed Forces Directorate of Intelligence which had a greater responsibility and had far more information, had to take extra care to guard secrecy. 

These secret discussions were carried on till December 1995 when one of the leaders of the MTA who was also a close relative of U Khun Sa was dispatched to Yangon by a jungle trail after informing the Military Intelligence authorities. Not long afterwards on 30th December, a delegation of the Armed Forces Intelligence arrived at the Headquarters. " 

"Had a cease - fire been declared then?"

"Not yet. Skirmishes were still going on. "

"So how had this intelligence delegation come through?"

"By the same jungle trail. Word had been sent on ahead of course. They came from Linkhai to the Than Lwin river bank and once they had crossed over, our outposts in the area were told that a group of traders friendly with U Khun Sa had come to see him. They were then escorted to our headquarters. " 

"My goodness! From Linkhai to Ho Mong is no mean distance."

"That's right. They had to travel through jungle, alternately on foot and by boat. The very night the delegation arrived, meetings were held and discussions took place with U Khun Sa and Chief of Staff U Kyan Hsu Shin. "  

"At the time did all of you know that a surrender of arms was imminent?"

"To be quite honest, except for the top level leaders, nobody knew anything. "

"It's really a wonder how no mishaps occurred. "

"I suppose one could say that planning on both sides had been meticulous and flawless." 

"That's perfectly true. Now do go on. What took place when U Khun Sa and the intelligence delegation met?"

"I believe the leader of the delegation first made known the position and attitude of the Secretary 1. How because. 

"He had full trust and confidence in U Khun Sa he had accordingly assumed total responsibility in submitting the full situation to the Leader of the State. That this delegation had been dispatched in the conviction that much could be achieved and that it would be successful in its mission. That it was also a demonstration of our trust in U Khun Sa. Thus, if this mission should result in failure then he the Secretary 1 would assume sole responsibility and tender his resignation. He said he also took full responsibility for U Khun Sa's safety and security. "

"Based on this pledge, the discussions proceeded. It is said that at this point U Khun Sa was visibly moved. "

"Why? Was it because it meant surrender?"

  
The medical ward and surgical room at Lwe Lan.

"How superficial can you get? He was so deeply moved because of the magnanimity of the country's leaders. That was why he vowed that not a hair of any member of the delegation would be hurt and that he would do his best to effect the surrender without a drop of blood being shed. And he at once began preparations. "

"Isn't it a fact that the surrender took place five or six days after the visit of the intelligence delegation?"

"You see only the surrender and not the enormous will and effort that made it possible. Don't forget our manpower of 15,000 wasn't concentrated in one place. They were deployed over quite a large expanse of territory. On the eastern bank of the Than Lwin we had forces still engaged in hostilities with the " Wa " in Lwe Lan / Lwe Ton, Mone Taw/ Mone Hta and Ho Mong regions. On the west bank we had troops stationed in many areas of both northern and southern Shan State. In such a set up, if some intrigue or plot had succeeded, chaos could have erupted with  MTA members turning on each other or some defecting without turning in their weapons. That is why planning had to be water - tight and foolproof before the surrender. Just two or three day after the conclusion of the discussions with the intelligence delegation, army battalions and units began entering the Ho Mong region and the Lwe Lan / Lwe Toon regions almost simultaneously. This was followed by the entry of Government Forces into the Mone Tawt / Mone  Hta region."

"Hey, didn't that cause armed clashes since their weapons hadn't yet been surrendered and many still had no inkling that a surrender was in the offing?"

"It was indeed a precarious situation truly very dangerous. The MTA troops had however been told that a discussion was to be held with the Government and that Government troops would be deployed in the region for security reasons. But, if even one small company had disobeyed and opened fire the situation could have turned sour. As it was MTA troops were withdrawn from strategic points and returned to headquarters. The Government Forces then came in to occupy positions thus vacated. It wasn't an easy job. It was just as well that both parties had planned and coordinated the arrangements most carefully. There was no problem at our Ho Mong Headquarters. But there were some difficulties in the Lwe Lan area." 

"Did the MTA attack the incoming Government Forces?"

"No, no. The fighting was between the MTA and ' Wa ' it was fierce. They had attacked the defence positions of the MTA. Military Intelligence groups had to make their way through these clashes to contact the MTA, and once contact had been established they had to hold discussions to take appropriate action. But when it came to replacing MTA positions with Government troops the 'Wa' refused to give in and even stepped up their attacks. In some  places Government troops had to take up the MTA positions during these attacks. The Government troops suffered casualties in the ' Wa' attack, but they did not return fire. Instead every effort was made to contact the 'Wa ' and request them to withhold fire. Somehow they had to be persuaded not to continue fighting." 

"Goodness gracious, it surely wasn't a piece of cake was it?"

"No it wasn't. In fact five members of the Government Forces were killed in action and six were wounded" 

"It seems to me that whether one is trying to make peace or trying to surrender you are still beset with many difficulties and life and blood have to be sacrificed."

"Yes, the Armed Forces made sacrifices in life and limb of its men for the sake of peace. In the same way MTA men gave up their lives in the Lwe Lan region so that the surrender could take place smoothly and successfully."