Friday, May 18, 2012

Opium War in 1967,CIA confusion (2)

Opium War in Golden Triangle

However, at 12:00 noon on July 30 the staccato chatter of automatic weapons was suddenly interrupted by the droning roar of six T-28 prop fighters flying low up the Mekong River and then the deafening thunder of the five hundred pound bombs that came crashing down indiscriminately on Shans and KMT alike.

General Ouane, apparently somewhat disconcerted by the unforeseen outcome of his dealings with Chan Shee-fu, had decided to play the part of an outraged commander in chief defending his nation's territorial integrity. With Prime Minister Souvanna Phourna's full consent he had dispatched a squadron of T-28 fighters from Luang Prabang and airlifted the crack Second Paratroop Battalion (Capt. Kong Le's old unit) up to Ban Houei Sai.

General Ouane took personal command of the operation and displayed all of the tactical brilliance one would expect from a general who had just received his nation's highest state decoration, "The Grand Cross of the Million Elephants and the White Parasol".  

Once the Second Paratroop Battalion had gone upriver to Ban Khwan and taken up a blocking position just south of the battlefield, the T-28s began two solid days of bombing and strafing at the rate of four or five squadron sorties daily.

To ensure against a possible retaliatory attack on Ban Houei Sai, General Ouane ordered two marine launches to patrol the upper reaches of the Mekong near Ban Khwan. Finally, two regular Laotian infantry battalions began moving down the old caravan trail from Muong Mounge to cut off the only remaining escape route.

Under the pressure of the repeated bombing attacks, the four hundred surviving Shans piled into the boats tied up along the embankment and retreated across the Mekong into Burma, leaving behind eighty-two dead, fifteen mules, and most of the opium.  

Lacking boats and unwilling to abandon their heavy equipment, the KMT troops fled north along the Mekong, but only got six miles before their retreat was cut off by the two Laotian infantry battalions moving south from Muong Mounge.

When the Shans and KMT had abandoned Ban Khwan, the Second Paratroop Battalion swept the battlefield, gathered up the opium and sent it downriver to Ban Houei Sai. Reinforcements were flown up from Vientiane, and superior numbers of Laotian army troops surrounded the KMT.   

Following two weeks of tense negotiations, the KMT finally agreed to pay General Ouane an indemnity of $7,500 for the right to return to Thailand. According to Thai police reports, some seven hundred KMT troops crossed the Mekong into Thailand on August 19, leaving behind seventy dead, twenty-four machine guns, and a number of dead mules.

Although the Thai police made a pro forma attempt at disarming the KMT, the troops clambered aboard eighteen chartered buses and drove off to Mae Salong with three hundred carbines, seventy machine guns, and two recoilless rifles.  

Gen. Ouane Rattikone was clearly the winner of this historic battle. His troops had captured most of the sixteen tons of raw opium, and only suffered a handful of casualties. Admittedly, his lumber mill was damaged and his opium refinery had been burned to the ground, but this loss was really insignificant, since General Ouane reportedly operated another five refineries between Ban Khwan and Ban Houei Sai.   

His profits from the confiscated opium were substantial, and displaying the generosity for which he is so justly famous, he shared the spoils with the men of the Second Paratroop Battalion. Each man reportedly received enough money to build a simple house on the outskirts of Vientiane.   

The village of Ban Khwan itself emerged from the conflagration relatively unscathed; when the people started moving back across the Mekong River three days after the battle, they found six burned-out houses, but other than that suffered no appreciable Loss.  

At the time it was fought, the 1967 Opium War struck most observers, even the most sober, as a curious historical anachronism that conjured up romantic memories of China's warlords in the 1920s and bandit desperadoes of bygone eras.

However, looking back on it in light of events in the Golden Triangle over the last five years-particularly the development of large-scale production of no. 4 heroin-the 1967 Opium War appears to have been a significant turning point in the growth of Southeast Asia's drug traffic.

Each group's share of Myanmar's opium exports and its subsequent role in the growth of the Golden Triangle's heroin industry were largely determined by the historic battle and its aftermath.

KMT caravans still carry the overwhelming percentage of Myanmar's opium exports, and Shan caravans have continued to pay the KMT duty when they enter Thailand. Chan Shee-fu, of course, was the big loser; he left $500,000 worth of raw opium, thousands of dollars in arms and mules, and much of his prestige lying in the mud at Ban Khwan.

Moreover, Chan Shee-fu represented the first and last challenge to KMT control over the Shan States opium trade and that challenge was decisively defeated. Since the destruction of Chan Shee-fu's convoy, Shan military leaders have played an increasingly unimportant role in their own opium trade; Shan caravans usually have less than a hundred mules, and their opium refineries are processing only a small percentage of the opium grown in the Shan States.

However, General Ouane's troops won the right to tax Myanmar opium entering Laos, a prerogative formerly enjoyed by the KMT, and the Ban Houei Sai region later emerged as the major processing center for Myanmar opium.
However, General Ouane's troops won the right to tax Burmese opium entering Laos, a prerogative formerly enjoyed by the KMT, and the Ban Houei Sai region later emerged as the major processing center for Myanmar opium. 
(Colonel Thet Oo's "My Opium Operations")

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