CHIANG RAI, Thailand—From their base, the Thai soldiers can see two Burmese army outposts and another two United Wa State Army (UWSA) camps. Despite the proximity to the two rival armies, the pace of life at the jungle base is slow; this unit has not engaged in fighting for decades. However, the Thai soldiers say their position is vital, not only for Thai sovereignty but to combat the increasing flow of drugs being smuggled into Thailand.
Every two or three months the Thai and Wa soldiers meet at a location halfway between their two bases. Despite their dedication to combating the drug trade, the soldiers say they refrain from talking about “politics or serious issues” with the Wa. But it is well known among Thai border guards that the Wa have their hands in the drug trade. Only two days before this reporter visited, they had caught three people no more than 4 km from the base smuggling in large quantities of methamphetamines. When the Thais attempted to arrest the traffickers a gunfight broke out, killing one of the smugglers.