Khun Sa

Opium-trafficking 'Prince of Death'


Chang Shi-fu (Khun Sa), guerrilla leader and drugs baron: born 17 February 1933; died Rangoon 26 October 2007.

He called himself a freedom fighter and, for more than four decades, Khun Sa headed a ruthless guerrilla army which he said he was using to win autonomy for Burma's Shan people.

Others were not so convinced. Around the world, drugs agents termed him the "Prince of Death", saying that he and the drugs organisation he ran from deep inside the jungles of South-east Asia were responsible for murder, assassinations and bribery. At one point, officials in Washington estimated that 60 per cent of the heroin being sold on the streets of the United States came from opium refined in the area under his control.

For years his area of operation was the so-called Golden Triangle, that remote part of the jungle where the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos meet. His hideout – a virtual autonomous kingdom – was equipped with satellite televisions, schools and surface-to-air missiles. "They say I have horns and fangs. Actually, I am a king without a crown," he once boasted to a reporter.

Khun Sa had not always sided with the Shan, one of Burma's many indigenous peoples. In the early 1960s he formed a militia that was loyal to the Burmese government and received money and equipment for fighting against the Shan rebels. Before long he fell into conflict with the government and served time in a Burmese jail.

When he was released in 1974 he returned to drug smuggling, renamed his militia the Shan United Army and began using the outfit to fight against the government again. He claimed he was doing so in the cause of Shan independence but Khun Sa was able to use his position to create leverage along the Thailand-Burma border and rapidly he became one of the most important players in the drugs trafficking business there.

He claimed that he was only involved in the drugs business to further the cause of the Shan and on one occasion he offered to sell his entire opium haul to the US government in exchange for money to start economic development in the impoverished Shan areas. "My people grow opium," he said. "And they are not doing it for fun. They do it because they need to buy rice to eat and clothes to wear."

He was born Chang Shi-fu in north-east Burma in 1933 to a Chinese father and a Shan mother, later adopting the name Khun Sa. In his younger years he served with the Kuomintang of China but left to form his own army made up of a few hundred men. Though he had received little education he learned military tactics, as well as the business of opium dealing, from his time with the Kuomintang, the remnants of which had been beaten by the Maoist forces and were holed-up in Burma.

In the mid-1990s it appears that Khun Sa fell out with other Shan leaders and again it became necessary for him to switch allegiances. Though the US had offered a $2m reward for his capture, the former warlord was able to make a deal with his one-time allies in the Burmese regime and opted to move out of the jungle and enjoy a life of relative ease and seclusion in Rangoon.

Andrew Buncombe

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MBDA UK Ltd: Mission Planning and Control Solutions Systems Engineer

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? A pro-act...

MBDA UK Ltd: System Design Capability

Competitive salary & benefits: MBDA UK Ltd: What’s the opportunity? The small...

Recruitment Genius: Time Served Fabricator / Welders - Immediate Start

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fabricator welder required for ...

Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Advisors

£14564 - £15311 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Inbound Customer Service Adviso...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific