By Naw Noreen
The Democratic Karen Benevolent Army has snubbed allegations made by the Thai government after the kingdom’s narcotics authorities placed a one million baht bounty on the armed group’s leader Na Khan Mwe.
Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board, which is under the direction of deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamroong who oversees the country’s anti-narcotic affairs, issued a statement announcing that bounties had been placed on the kingdom’s 25 most wanted drug lords.
The rewards range from 100,000 to 2 million Baht.
The DKBA, formerly known as the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, decried the ONCB’s move and have formally invited the Thai deputy PM to visit their territory where he would be allowed to investigate the claims made by his department.
“Is it really sufficient to make accusations against an individual or an organisation just by simply putting a bounty on their head? In our perception, it is necessary to also present solid evidences as to who did what and when,” announced the DKBA in a press statement.
“We would like respond to the Thai deputy PM Chalerm Yubamroong regarding the current situation to present solid and strong evidence to support the claim [concerning] our group’s involvement with drugs and to point out locations of the alleged drug [factories] if they want to accuse us of drug manufacturing,” said the statement.
The group demanded Yubamroong to visit and inspect its territory in eastern Karen state near the Thai-Burma border to verify the claims.
“We hereby invite Thai Deputy Prime Minister to pay a visit to us personally, and inspect and settle the matter by 30 April 2012 at the latest,” read the statement. “If not, we shall proceed in accordance with international law.
Thai authorities have yet to respond to the DKBA’s ultimatum published today.
“This really damages our credibility,” said DKBA spokesperson Saw Ko Myo. “We are an organisation working for the interest of the general public, not for our own benefit so our credibility is priceless for us.”
The DKBA broke away from the Karen National Union in 1994 and signed a ceasefire with the military junta, but later rejected the Burmese government’s demands to form Border Guard Force units. They resumed their armed struggle against the government in 2010.
The armed group grabbed headlines when they captured Myawaddy on the Thai-Burma border. Fighting erupted between the DKBA and government troops after the deadline calling for the group to form BGF units expired. While the group briefly captured the township, the move demonstrated their ability to successfully engage militarily with the central government.
The group signed a ceasefire deal in December last year. According to clause No. 5 in the pact, the DKBA agreed to eliminate any connection to the production and trafficking of narcotics.
“We have regulations and directives to prevent drug issues in our region,” said the spokesperson. “We are seriously against [narcotics] and have issued an order [directed at] all our official ranks to stay out of the drug businesses.”
Thailand’s announcement to vigorously pursue drug kingpins came as Lao authorities are said to have captured Jai Norkham, a former Shan rebel fighter and close confident of famed heroin tycoon Khun Sa. Jai Norkham also appeared on the list published this week, but is reportedly being sent to China due to his suspected connection with the murder of 13 Chinese fisherman who were killed in the Golden Triangle in October of last year.