White elephant war pits Thailand against Myanmar (Part I)
Myanmar, Thailand dispute re-erupts after 250-year cease fire
At stake: the power of the kings
By Paul Sochaczewski
The Western media have paid scant attention to recent border skirmishes between Myanmar and Thailand. The two countries have bombed each other’s military bases, sent troops over the border into the other country’s territory, withdrawn ambassadors and closed official border crossings.
Some observers say the fight is about territory. Or maybe illegal trade. Perhaps drug dealing gone awry. Maybe conflicting political systems.
But the real reason for the conflict is that each country has been stealing the other’s white elephants to prop up beleaguered heads of state. A white elephant has always been a symbol of a just and revered Buddhist king, and the rulers of Thailand and Myanmar need all the symbolic power they can get.
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The triggering incident is unclear, but two versions are heard, depending on which country you believe.
In the first, told by Myanmar sympathizers, the Thais intercepted a Myanmar road convoy transporting two white elephants to the Chinese provincial capital of Kunming, where they were going to be put on display as a symbol of friendship between the two countries.
The Thais captured the trucks containing the animals in northern Myanmar and spirited the animals across the border to a secret location near Chiang Mai.
The second story, told by the Thais, is that Thai veterinarians had successfully cloned white elephant embryos. Three of the embryos were stolen from a Thailand laboratory by sophisticated Myanmar thieves and taken to Myanmar, where they were carried to term by captive white elephants.
The head of the Thai laboratory absconded, along with his family. Their whereabouts are unknown, but Thai rumor-mongers speculate the turncoats are living in lonely luxury in the Myanmar capital of Naw Pyi Taw.
*** BREAKING NEWS ***
As this volume was going to print, a new, sketchy report of white elephant aggression and trade has emerged.
Rumors (heavily denied by both sides) filtered out that the Thais attempted a lightning helicopter raid to capture three baby white elephants from their corral in central Myanmar, where they were being held for veterinary care before being transferred to their permanent home in Myanmar’s capital, Naw Pyi Taw.
In a blitz attack described by one Thai general as based on the 2011 U.S. midnight raid into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden, three Thai military helicopters, probably U.S. Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks, equipped with veterinarians as well as soldiers, made a daring midnight raid.
Their plans were to tranquilize the adult white elephants and, with the help of Thai mahouts who learned Burmese language elephant commands, lead the baby elephants on to the helicopters and transport them to Thailand.
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Not yet sure what to believe? Follow along in the next installment of “Elephant Wars.”
Paul Spencer Sochaczewski is a Geneva-based writer whose books include An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles, Distant Greens, Curious Encounters of the Human Kind, Redheads, Share Your Journey and Soul of the Tiger (with Jeff McNeely). This satirical piece is excerpted from Exceptional Encounters: Enhanced Reality Tales from Southeast Asia, which will be published by Explorer’s Eye Press in late 2017. Paul can be contacted at: www.sochaczewski.com.