Golden Triangle Thrives Despite Enforcement Efforts

Southeast Asia's Golden Triangle is a jungle area at the borders of Burma, Thailand and Laos, named for the wealth generated by its abundance of opium. It was estimated at one time that more than 60% of heroin sold in the U.S. was produced from Golden Triangle opium. Drug barons command private armies, competing for territory and market share.

In the 1990s, Burmese officials succeeded in driving the best known drug baron, 61-year-old Khun Sa, into hiding, and in disrupting his operations. Half his army defected in 1995 and his group's share of the Burmese market declined from about 80% in 1989 to less than 50% in 1994.

Khun Sa's defeat made no difference on the opium trade. Numerous organizations have expanded their operations, and many even have cease-fire agreements with the Burmese government that allow them to continue smuggling with less interference.

Rebel groups throughout the world -- from Afghanistan to Nicaragua to the Golden Triangle -- have recognized the value drugs have in financing their military operations. As long as there are minority groups willing to start a rebellion, there will be an international drug trade. Unless, of course, drugs are legalized, at which point the profits and incentives supporting the guerillas disappear.

Source: January 10, 1996, Associated Press article, "Khun Sa's surrender will make no dent in drug trade, officials say."