covering burma and southeast asia
Sunday, June 16, 2024



By The Irrawaddy MARCH, 1999 - VOLUME 7 NO.3

(Page 9 of 11)

until he dies."

But anyone who believes that Cambodia’s past can be hastily erased does no justice to the memory of the millions who lost their lives during one of history’s darkest moments.



Guns, Gambling, Girls, Ganja, a book recently launched by three Thai professors, examines the illegal arms trade in Thailand. Aung Zaw reports on their findings.

In 1994, a Thai man driving a petrol tanker was stopped by highway police near the Thai-Burmese border. Instead gasoline, the police found SAM-7 missiles in the tanker. The driver hastily confessed that he was asked to transport these missiles to druglord Khun Sa, who was then leading the Mong Tai Army [MTA]. With regard to arms smuggling, this is hardly a rare or substantial story for Thailand. In fact, many more weapons have been seized over the past years. But the heyday of Thailand’s underground arms market is in decline. The major factors underlying the illegal arms trade in recent years have been the fighting between the military government and minority groups in Burma, and between government forces and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Since the 1950s, the countries bordering Thailand —Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos and Burma—have been plagued with internal and external conflicts. However, the conflict in these four countries has receded and the arms trade is decreasing. Since 1996, the contraband arms trade has been in decline. But a group of Thai academics, who recently published a book provocatively titled Guns, Girls, Gambling, Ganja, worry that those involved in the arms trade may simply turn their attention to other illegal businesses, including drug trafficking, prostitution and gambling.

Arms to Burma

The book says that on Thailand’s western border, where much of Burma’s longstanding internal political conflict has taken place, "The arms trade has been much larger." A major demand for modern weapons came from the many ethnic minorities in Burma based along the Thai border that took up armed struggle against the central government. Logging and the trade in opium and jade are the main sources of income for these groups to purchase arms.

On the Burma side, resistance groups such as Karen, Mon, Arakanese, Shan and the now defunct Communist Party of Burma were major recipients of war weapons. The book said, "In recent years, the largest single flow of illegal arms has been from the supplies and stockpiles in Indochina to the rebels in Burma."

However, after signing ceasefire agreement with the Rangoon regime, the purchase of arms has decreased. In 1989, the Communist Party faced a serious mutiny, which led members of its cadres, the Wa and Kokang, to make peace with Rangoon. They were followed by the Kachin in 1993.

Interestingly, China has become a major arms supplier to the Rangoon regime since 1989. Rangoon has bought tanks, frigates, ammunition, and hardware from Beijing. The Chinese have even sent military officers to train Burmese soldiers.

However, Thailand’s illegal arms market remains the best source for Karen and Shan insurgents, the book said. An exofficer of the National Security Council (NSC) said, "All the armed forces of these minority groups rely on the weapons purchased from the Thailand market." Some of the arms supplied to Burma originated from the stocks of the Thai military.

Secret arrangements were made by Thai officers who acted as middlemen. The Thai middlemen include both civilians and people in uniform. In some cases, there are no Thai middlemen involved. Agents for the Burmese groups live covertly in the border areas of Buriram, Surin, and Sisaket from where they could contact the military leaders of the Khmer Rouge directly.

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