Pubdate: Sun, 24 Mar 2002
Source: United Press International (Wire)
Copyright: 2002 United Press International


BANGKOK, Thailand --  Thirteen suspected drug smugglers were killed when 
Thai troops ambushed a caravan attempting to smuggle some 2 million 
methamphetamine "speed" pills across the

border from Myanmar, Thai army officers said Sunday.

One Thai army private was also killed in the 30-minute firefight Friday 
night about 6 miles inside Thailand at Wiang Haeng district ofChiang Mai 
province, 450 miles north of Bangkok.

A Thai Third Army spokesman said troops along the border had

received intelligence reports that about 2 million methamphetamine pills 
were to be delivered and detected a force of ten ethnic Wa troops and 20 of 
their porters at the border on Friday afternoon.

The Thai officer said the drug smugglers waited at the border until 
darkness. When they crossed into Thailand at about 8 p.m. they were 
ambushed by a force of about 18 Thai troops.

The smugglers, some of them wounded, fled back into Myanmar, the country 
formerly known as Burma, leaving behind 16 backpacks, each containing about 
100,000 methampetamine pills, and a satellite telephone.

They also left behind 13 bodies, most of them believed to be ethnic Wa 
porters forced to carry the drugs across the border.

The fleeing smugglers reportedly carried several of the backpacks loaded 
with methamphetamines back toward the border, with Thai troops in pursuit.

Thai officers said the gang that carried out the failed smuggling attempt 
was believed to be working for the infamous Wei brothers, ethnic Chinese 
drug barons who are protected by the 20,000-strong United Wa State Army.

Wei Hsue Gang, the elder of the three brothers, has been indicted by a New 
York federal court for allegedly organizing the importation of a large 
shipment of heroin into the U.S. in 1987.

The Justice Department has posted a $1 million reward for information 
leading to Wei's capture.

The Wei brothers are from the southern Chinese province of Yunnan and were 
reported to have worked for the CIA along the Chinese border in the 1960s 
before they got into the heroin business.

According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and 
otherinternational enforcement agencies, the Wei brothers, although still 
involved in the heroin trade, have become the leading dealers in 
methamphetamines, known in Thailand as "ya bah", or "crazy drug."

The Thai army estimates that 700 million methamphetamine pills, most of 
them produced at a string of clandestine jungle laboratories along the 
border, were smuggled into Thailand last year.

Despite strong anti-drug efforts in Thailand, the army expects that figure 
to grow to more than 800 million of the pills in 2002.

Among the many Thai police and military units trying to stem the flood of 
methamphetamines into Thailand is Taskforce 399, which has been trained by 
United States Special Forces troops for rapid deployment against drug 

The Thai army has been re-defining the roles of other military units 
previously involved in anti-insurgency and border patrolling duties to 
fight the war on drugs.
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