Rebirth is a major theme in Buddhism. But there is a form of
"reincarnation" under way in this Buddhist nation that has
international drug investigators working overtime.
Burma's ruling junta is trying to prove there is, indeed, life
after being a "godfather" in the Golden Triangle.
Just ask Khun Sa and a host of other opium warlords who are
benefiting from a government campaign to embrace the region's
criminal underworld as legitimate businessmen, provided they invest
their narco-money in Burma.
It is a policy that appears rooted in cold pragmatism, perhaps
even desperation. The governing generals are seeking to prop up
their wheezing economy by appealing to drug traffickers - both
current and former - to bring their money home.
The key phrase is: No questions asked.
"Opium is the one crop that continues to make money for people
here," says a Western diplomat. "How much of the money ultimately
comes back here and is invested in the economy, nobody knows."
The policy is raising concerns that the military government may
become hooked on drug money.
Given the widening Asian financial crisis, continuing
international sanctions against Burma, and less-than-friendly
economic conditions inside Burma, the regime has few options for
attracting fresh capital.
Narco-investment as rehab?
Government officials defend their policy, justifying it as an
attempt to rehabilitate criminals by weaning them away from lives of
But such explanations seem a little convenient to Western
diplomats who note that much of the opium and heroin profits are a
direct result of lax law enforcement in the Golden Triangle by
Analysts point to one Rangoon-based business powerhouse with
investments in real estate, finance, mining, tourism, and trade. The
company is viewed as the commercial arm of the United Wa State Army,
a heavily armed militia now considered the largest, most active drug-
trafficking group in the Burma sector of the Golden Triangle.
What has some Western analysts in Rangoon concerned is that
Burma's drug-money reinvestment policy dovetails with a series of
cease-fire agreements reached in 1989 with the same ethnic militias
that protect and run the opium and heroin operations.
Under the terms of the cease-fire agreements, the ethnic groups
pledged to eventually work toward creation of opium-free zones
throughout their regions. Deadlines for an absolute halt to all
opium trade have been suggested (some as early as 2000), but it is
doubtful they will be honored.
In the meantime, the region's drug trade is enjoying what looks to
be a tacit agreement by the government to allow the traffickers to
continue their lucrative operations as long as the cease-fires are