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US Grand Jury Indicts 8 Southeast Asia Drug Trafficking Suspects

Federal officials in New York have announced a grand jury indictment of the senior leadership of the United Wa State Army in Eastern Burma on heroin and methamphetamine trafficking charges. The officials say the Wa State Army is one of the largest heroin producing and trafficking organizations in the world and the biggest in Southeast Asia.

The federal officials say the indictment is a result of a Drug Enforcement Agency operation codenamed "Operation Warlord." The DEA, working with Thailand's police, targeted senior members of the UWSA, which controls some 16,000 troops and large segments of Eastern Burma, part of the opium-producing Golden Triangle.

The UWSA says it is a movement seeking an independent Wa state. But law enforcement officials say the organization is a criminal syndicate and global drug trafficker. U.S. Attorney Roslyn Mauskopf says the Wa State Army has been called Asia's deadliest drug cartel. "Using its control of this territory and through its military forces, the Wa State Army has for decades promoted and directed the cultivation and processing of thousands of kilograms of heroin and, more recently, industrial quantities of methamphetamine for shipment to the United States and throughout the world. Last year alone, it is estimated that the Wa State Army was responsible for the production of more than 180-metric tons of opium," she said.

Each of the eight men is charged with manufacturing and distributing large quantities of heroine and methamphetamine. They all face potential sentences of life in prison if captured. The U.S. State Department is offering a $2 million reward for information leading to the capture of Wei Hsueh Kang, who is designated a "drug kingpin." He was also indicted in the United States in 1993 for importing heroin.

Special agent Anthony Placido of the Drug Enforcement Agency says UWSA is a threat to all the nations of Southeast Asia. "Perhaps the most significant fact about today's announcements is that the United Wa State Army has used the illegal drug trade not only to fuel addiction and crime and social problems around the globe but also the enormous profits from this illegal enterprise have been used to destabilize Burma and the United Wa State has built an insurgent organization estimated between 16,000 and 20,000 heavily armed troops that have become so strong that they now control an autonomous region of Burma," he said.

Law enforcement officials say they hope the indictment will freeze the group's assets, restrict the movements of the UWSA leaders and bring about their arrest.