DKBA Calls on US Drug Agency to Investigate Thai Allegations

By Saw Yan Naing 10 May 2012

Saw Lah Pwe, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) leader who has been named one of Thailand’s most-wanted drug traffickers, has called on international anti-narcotics bodies including the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to investigate the allegations against him.

At a press conference in Myawaddy Township on Thursday, Saw Lah Pwe told several dozen journalists that his organization wrote to the DEA on May 1 urging the agency to come to the area under his control to determine whether he is involved in drug trafficking.

He said the DEA acknowledged receipt of the letter, but did not immediately respond to the invitation.

Speaking to more than 40 Burmese and around 10 Thai journalists, as well as a number of foreign reporters, he added that he has also extended similar invitations to the Thai and Burmese authorities, but has yet to receive a response from them.

On April, Thailand’s Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) included Saw Lah Pwe, who is also known as Na Kham Mwe, in the top five of a list of Thailand’s 25 most-wanted drug traffickers with an offer of a reward for 1 million baht (US $32,000) for information leading to his arrest.

The DKBA leader immediately challenged the allegations against him, saying he was willing to face the charges in a court of law if Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who made the decision to include Saw Lah Pwe on the most-wanted list, could offer any evidence to support the claims.

The DKBA also warned that it would shut down a major border-trade point, the Myawaddy-Mae Sot Friendship Brigade, if tensions between the group and the Thai authorities continued to rise, according to Maj San Aung, a leading DKBA official.

The ONCB has insisted, however, that its reports of the DKBA leader’s alleged involvement in the drug trade are accurate. It said that drugs seized by the Thai authorities in Tak Province in 2003 belonged to relatives of Saw Lah Pwe, and that he was their ringleader.

However, Thai media reports indicate that the Thai authorities appear to be working on the assumption that Saw Lah Pwe was the leader of the DKBA at that time. In fact, he was just the commander of DKBA Brigade 5, which broke away from the rest of the group in 2010 after it decided to disband and join a Border Guard Force (BGF) under Burmese military command.

Since then, Saw Lah Pwe’s faction, consisting of around 1,500 troops—roughly a quarter of the group’s former size—is all that remains of the DKBA.

Saw Lah Pwe also questioned the timing of the Thai charges against him. “Why didn’t they issue an arrest warrant for me in 2003 if that’s when they seized the drugs?” he said.

Accusing Chalerm of stirring up trouble, Saw Lah Pwe said that the Thai deputy prime minister “doesn’t want peace.”

“If he is so interested in hunting down fugitives, he should go after Thaksin,” said the DKBA leader, referring to former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who fled Thailand in 2008 after being found guilty of corruption.