Thai electricity runs Myanmar drug factories, says general

BANGKOK, Reuters

A Thai general called on Monday for Thailand to stop selling electricity to military ruled Myanmar, saying Myanmar authorities were supplying the power to drug factories.

Lieutenant-General Wattanachai Chaimuanwong told a radio station electricity Thailand was supplying to the northeast Myanmar border town of Tachilek was powering machines for making methamphetamines run by an ethnic minority militia group.

“Of course, they (the Myanmar militia group) power their drug-making machines with electricity, otherwise they can’t make 700 to 800 million tablets (a year). Therefore Thailand should stop selling electricity to Myanmar,” Wattanachai said.

Wattanachai, often a vocal critic of the Myanmar military, is commander of Thailand’s third army region which includes the northern border with Myanmar.

His remarks, analysts said, could lead to a new round in a war of words between the neighbors, who share a 2,400 km (1,490 miles) border.

Clashes between Thai and Myanmar border forces erupted in February but tension was eased somewhat by regional-level talks between the two sides earlier this month.

Thailand, once notorious for being a major conduit and supplier of heroin, now faces a growing problem with methamphetamines, produced, officials say, by the United Wa State Army (UWSA), a Myanmar’s ethnic minority militia force based in Shan State.

Wattanachai said Thai electricity supplied to Tachilek was being passed on to UWSA headquarters in Mong Yawn, 80 km (50 miles) southwest of Tachilek.

Thai drug suppression agencies estimate the number of methamphetamine stimulant tablets, known in its crystallized form in the West as “ice,” flowing into Thailand this year would leap to 800 million pills from 500 million in 2000.

The UWSA was formed by ethnic Wa fighters who mutinied against their leaders in the anti-government Communist Party of Burma in 1989, set up their own force and then signed a cease-fire pact with Yangon.

The UWSA, granted a degree of autonomy under the deal with Yangon, has helped the Myanmar army in its fight against separatist Shan guerrillas. But the Yangon government says it has no control over its ally.