Mae Sot (Mizzima) - Unauthorised meetings with Burma’s ruling junta, the State Peace and development Council, in Rangoon and Naypidaw last year ensured Nay Soe Mya’s ouster from his father’s beloved Karen National Union and Karen National Liberation Army.
The KNU now regards him as a traitor and people who once thought of themselves as comrades-in-arms want nothing to do with him.
Better known as Tay Lay, the late General Bo Mya’s youngest son crossed into Thailand this month, driving a car with Thai registration plates, carrying a Thai passport and doing the rounds of his old stomping ground of Mae Sot, a town where whispers were exchanged in his wake.
He’s still got the same disarming grin and remains loose with the facts.
He’s stacked on weight around the gut, but sticks to his tight, black T-shirts that make clear he shares the broad shoulders of his famous father, the late General Bo Mya.
Tay Lay Mya likes to wear dark glasses, slip-on dress shoes, a nice cut of trouser and considers himself quite the ladies’ man. Once a prominent figure in Karen circles, Tay Lay has now aligned himself with his uncle, former KNLA Brigadier-General Htein Maung.
Htein Maung was once KNLA’s Seventh Brigade Commander, but absconded in 2006 amid allegations of multi-million Baht theft. Tay Lay has now joined Htein Maung’s ranks.
He brags about having taken 42 soldiers from KNLA Seventh Brigade’s 202 Battalion with him when he jumped ship to work with Naypidaw.
He’s a little more reserved when he admits he only got four from Sixth Brigade’s 201 Battalion, the hardcore crew that held onto the stronghold of Wah Lay Kee for months either side of the New Year in the face of constant attacks.
Friends without bond
“The Peace Council has a problem with the SPDC,” he says matter-of-factly, as he pulls up a plastic seat and orders a glass of milk at a Mae Sot cafe.
“Two months ago they [the SPDC] asked Htein Maung to fight the KNU.
“We have said we will not fight the KNU.
“We have been asked to change badges for an SPDC insignia, some DKBA [the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, a KNU splinter group allied with the SPDC] commanders have agreed, some have not. We have not.
“Some of the leaders have said it would be considered a move against the Karen people,” he said.
Tay Lay said the current pressure from the SPDC for militia armies to “join the legal fold” and transform into “Border Guard Forces” backed by the SPDC was not working for the greater Karen community.
“The SPDC will order the border guard forces to fight the KNU,” he said.
The entity to which he is now aligned, the ambiguously-named KNU/KNLA Peace Council, has refused to fight the KNU and will not transform itself into a Border Guard Force if that is a pre-requisite.
“But Htein Maung [the supreme KNU/KNLA Peace Council leader] has said we must control the borderline,” said Tay Lay.
Control of border territory relates directly to the Peace Council’s interest in trade with Thailand. It seems this is not an area where conflict with the KNLA is likely anyway.
One KNLA leader told this correspondent earlier this month that the border fighting was not on the KLNA’s agenda, regarding it as an expensive waste of ammunition.
The KNLA’s intention is to move deeper inside Burma, he said.
So it would seem the Peace Council and the DKBA will have the border to themselves - and have to sort out who takes what cut on which deal, a potentially messy business.
Peace Council members are widely regarded within the KNU as money-grabbing opportunists.
And the SPDC has reinforced this view, rewarding their desertion with revenues from Thai-Burma border trade, showering them with “gifts” and essentially giving them their own carriage on the junta’s gravy train.
“We are close to the SPDC, but don’t agree with everything they say,” Tay Lay said of the Peace Council.
He, for one, has done well out of his shift from the KNU.
He shows me snapshots of his three new homes in Burma and says he now owns 12 vehicles, one a jeep with an M-60 machine-gun mounted on top.
But, according to its own leaders, the Peace Council is not in conflict with anyone.
Tay Lay says he is now in the jade business, teaming up with a crony, selling jade internationally.
He carries two passports, Thai and Burmese, and has homes at To Kau Ko, Myawaddy and Rangoon, but says he doesn’t live in Rangoon because he’s not really sure how the SPDC feels about him and worries they may assassinate him.
Much of Tay Lay’s cash comes from the Myawaddy-Mae Sot and Shwe Kokko-Kokko tax gates.
“We’re also planning a new road to To Kaw Ko,” he said, and quickly sketched a map showing To Kaw Ko directly west of Mae La refugee camp, across the dividing Dawna Mountain Range.
The sketch showed a rough square, bordered by Myadwaddy on the Moei, Kaw Ka Klae to the west, To Kaw Ko to the north and Mae Lae in the east.
This is apparently Tay Lay’s patch.
He said he personally commanded 1,800 men, the Peace Council’s Company One, which he described as a “special company”, comprising Battalions 709, 708, 37 and 777.
This flies in the face of KNLA Colonel Nerdah Mya’s (Tay Lay’s older brother) estimates of the Peace Council’s strength.
“They have about 300 men,” he said earlier this year.
The major difference between the Peace Council and the SPDC and its ally, the DKBA, was that the Peace Council’s prime motivation was helping the Karen people, whereas the DKBA and SPDC thought about making money first, Tay Lay said.
“The schools are not good, they need to be helped first,” he said.
“The villages get 20,000 Kyat a month from the SPDC, that’s not even enough for food.”
He said donations such as that from World Vision, which he claimed on September 27 donated books to a school in Karen State amid much fanfare, were welcome additions to sparse resources.
He said the Peace Council wanted to establish offices in Mae Sot, Thailand, “for the Karen people”, that could help administer aid distribution and trade deals over the other side of the border.
Cash doesn’t seem to be a problem for Tay Lay and just before he left to return to Myawaddy he said he intended to buy a helicopter.
But where would he buy a helicopter from?
“From the Thais of course,” he said, mocking me as if I were a fool for not realising the Thai military did deals with outlaw businessmen aligned to Burma’s military junta.
And for how much?
“Four hundred and fifty thousand Baht, it’s an old one,” he said.
“I’ll only fly it once, but I want to fly over Nerdah’s house.”
Tay Lay said his motivation for buying a helicopter was “a show of strength in the face of the SPDC”.
Asked about Tay Lay’s hopes to buy a chopper, Colonel Nerdah simply laughed and said he cannot buy a helicopter”.
“He’s a businessman now, he just comes over the border to see his family,” he said.
Tay Lay’s wife and children live in Khamphaeng Phet in lower north of Thailand.