Opium warlord loses last battle

Bangkok (Reuter) - Burmese troops have taken over the headquarters of the opium warlord Khun Sa in a move which some former associates said yesterday signalled his surrender and the end of his career as one of the world's most infamous drug barons.

Civilians in the jungle stronghold of Ho Mong on the edge of Burma's eastern Shan state, about 30 km (19 miles) from the Thai border, said Burmese troops met no resistance when they entered the town on Monday morning. The whereabouts of the 61-year-old Khun Sa were not known but former associates were convinced that the guerrilla commander had made a deal with Burmese authorities.

"Khun Sa seems to have reached a secret deal with the Burmese, first to hand over his troops and territory to them, then announce a surrender which would mean he would be granted an amnesty and live peacefully for the rest of his life." one veteran Shan nationalist politician said.

A former official in Khun Sa's guerrilla organisation, said: "Khun Sa is making a dirty move at the end of his career."

Most guerrilla officials and fighters in Khun Sa's Mong Tai [Shan state] army had quietly left the town by the weekend, one civilian said by telephone from Ho Mong.

"The district headman told us a few days ago that the Burmese were coming to run the town and they told us not to be afraid because they are coming as friends." he said.

Khun Sa has been indicted in the United States on drug-trafficking charges and Thailand has said that he would be extradited if he were ever found on Thai soil.

Burma's military government had condemned him as a drug-running "terrorist" and said it would put him on trial if he was caught.

Khun Sa has long claimed to be a nationalist fighting for the independence of Burma's Shan people. He said he only taxed opium traders moving through his zone of control to finance his political battles. His was the most powerful guerrilla force still fighting the Rangoon government, but last June several thousand fighters, led by young Shan nationalists, broke away, complaining he was devoting too much attention to the drug trade and was neglecting political objectives.

Last November, a dejected Khun Sa officially stepped down as commander saying that he had lost heart since the defection.