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"Wanted" Opium Warlord Competes With Topless Bar Girls

"Wanted" Opium Warlord Competes With Topless Bar Girls

By Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Will the world's drunks, playboys, voyeurs and tourists, gawking at topless prostitutes amid the naughty neon of Bangkok's tropical nights, help the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration catch the Golden Triangle's biggest alleged opium warlord whose 30,000 post-cannibal rebels dwell in the treacherous mountains of Burma?

Imaginative "wanted" notices have appeared in Bangkok's bars showing the face of the minority ethnic Wa tribe's guerrilla leader, Wei Hsueh Kang, emblazoned on black plastic-covered Styrofoam beer bottle holders, served to international customers so they can contemplate a $2 million reward while bar girls coo, tickle and seduce them.

Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich
Photo © by Richard S. Ehrlich

Mr. Wei's private United Wa State Army includes an estimated 30,000 rebels reportedly armed with artillery, shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missiles, anti-tank weapons, assault rifles and plenty of ammunition.

"You have to be a specialist to catch him," said a chubby foreign teacher sitting on his bar stool so his eyes were inches away from the dancing knees of several bare-breasted bar girls atop a narrow stage.

The fearsome minority ethnic Wa tribe in northeast Burma, a country also known as Myanmar, were cannibals up until World War II, and carved out their own territory where they battled the government's military and rival tribes to control lucrative opium, heroin and methamphetamine production sites and smuggling routes.

Other tribes are terrified of the Wa, who decades ago displayed human heads of defeated enemies during rituals which horrified foreign Christian missionaries.

Tonight, while a Lady Ga Ga song blares and topless girls dance in a bar in the three-story Nana Entertainment Plaza red-light zone, customers occasionally eye the photograph wrapped around their beer bottles and contemplate his whereabouts.

"Yeah, like he's going to walk into Nana, and watch a show in the Angel Witch bar," said a British man nicknamed Dave the Rave, who publishes an extensive website about Bangkok's nightlife.

"Does the DEA believe there are some large mercenary forces sitting around here, having a drink?" he said in an interview.

"Remember the deck of cards the Americans handed out in Iraq during the war, to catch Iraqis?" one newspaper man marveled, toying with a beer holder.

"WANTED. WEI HSUEH KANG," bold letters announce on each bottle sleeve, illustrated by Mr. Wei's color photograph and a description, in English and Thai, of his alleged crime:

"Wei Hsueh Kang -- alias Prasit Chiyinnitipanya -- an official in the United Wa State Army in Burma, is wanted for drug trafficking in Thailand and the United States.

"The U.S. is offering a REWARD OF UP TO $2 MILLION DOLLARS for information leading to his arrest and conviction in the United States."

The beer holder lists a "Hotline" phone number in Bangkok, (66) 2-205-4444, plus an email address, DEA-REWARDS@USDOJ.GOV, and a website WWW.DEA-REWARDS.COM alongside other information.

"The Royal Thai Police Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) are offering rewards for drug related, money laundering, and terrorism information that results in arrests and seizures."

The reverse side of the bottle holder shows photographs of three big pills -- apparently methamphetamine tablets -- and displays the official badges of the NSB and DEA.

The wanted posters were recently handed out free to bar owners across Bangkok.

The only people who probe the Wa areas are other drug dealers, Chinese import-export entrepreneurs, and an occasional official making a furtive survey of Shan state, where the Wa have strongholds northeast and southeast of Mandalay, along the border with China and Thailand.

The militaristic Wa often ally themselves with other minority ethnic tribes in the mountainous area where casinos, brothels, drugs, and Internet provide lifelines to the outside world, allowing them to construct their own schools, hospitals, jails, electric grids and other infrastructure.

Burma's military dictators arranged a loose cease-fire in 1989 with the Wa, who are sustained by imports from Thailand and especially China from where they often buy food and fuel.

Born in China, Mr. Wei would be more vulnerable to arrest if he travels outside the lawless areas of Burma.

More than 60 years ago, British colonialists failed to subdue the Wa, and earlier Burmese kings could not control them.


Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism. His web page is

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