Phao Siyanon

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Person.png Phao Siyanon  Rdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
(officer, drug lord)
Phao Siyanon.jpg
Born1 March 1910
Died21 November 1960 (Age 50)
Interests • Golden Triangle
• CIA/Drug trafficking
• National Intelligence Agency (Thailand)
Thai police general who ran huge opium trade in collaboration with the CIA and the Kuomintang.

Police General Phao Siyanon was a director general of Thailand's national police who was notorious for controlling the Golden Triangle opium trade in collaboration with the CIA and the Kuomintang. Founded the secret society known generally as the "Knights of the diamond ring", which he used to kill political opponents.

Early Life

Phao was born of Thai-Burmese ancestry[1], as son of an army officer. He was the son-in-law of Field Marshal Phin Choonhavan[2] and his deputy as the commander of the army in Shan State (in Burma) during World War II. After the war he changed to the police leadership.

He took part in the 1947 coup d'état led by Phin that ended the last of Pridi Phanomyong's attempts to create democracy in post-World War II Thailand, restoring disgraced Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsonggram to power. Made deputy director of the police, Phao quickly staged a show trial of the alleged "assassins" of King Ananda Mahidol (Rama VIII), in which three members of the palace staff were found guilty despite a lack of evidence and were eventually executed even though they had earlier been found innocent.

In 1951 he became director general of the Thai police.[3] He then ruled the country together with Prime Minister Phibunsongkhram and the Army Commander-in-Chief Sarit Thanarat in a kind of triumvirate.

A client of the CIA, Phao received funds and hardware to build his personal fortune, as well as the expertise of US paramilitaries such as James William Lair to turn the police into an alternative force to oppose his military rival, Sarit Thanarat, and to set up the border police as an anti-communist special unit.

At the same time, he enabled drug-for-arms deals between the CIA and the Kuomintang operating in Shan State, Burma, under the leadership of General Li Mi, who fought against the communist government of the People's Republic of China in the Chinese Civil War.[4]

He also controlled the opium trade in Thailand.[5][6]

He increased the strength of the police to 43,000 men by 1954, became head of the National Intelligence Agency and founded the secret society of police officers, known generally as the "Knights of the diamond ring", which he used to kill political opponents. Their crimes were many:

  • In March 1949, four MPs from Isan and an associate, all one-time disciples of the exiled Pridi, were arrested on charges of treason. They were shot dead by their police escort while supposedly being transferred from one jail to another.
  • On 12 December 1952, Tiang Sirikhanth, MP for Sakon Nakhon, a leading Seri Thai member and an opponent of the government, was arrested with four of his associates. They were murdered (allegedly by strangulation in a police station) and their bodies burned in a forest in Kanchanaburi Province.
  • A successful newspaper publisher, Ari Liwara, refused to sell out to Phao and was killed in March 1953.
  • In 1954 Phon Malithong, MP for Samut Sakhon who provided evidence of corruption against Phao in Parliament, was in found tied to a concrete pier in the Chao Phraya River, having first been strangled.

Phao was extremely wealthy. He demanded protection money from businessmen, rigged the gold exchange, and blackmailed corporations into giving him huge shareholdings. He also profited greatly from the opium trade. Police units transferred opium from the poppy fields of the Golden Triangle to Bangkok, ready to be exported. Trucks, planes, and boats which had been supplied to the police by the CIA, were instead used to move opium, which the police carefully guarded.

After his domestic rival Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat staged a coup in 1957, Phao fled to Switzerland,[3] where he died at the age of 50.


  3. a b Chris Baker, Pasuk Phongpaichit: A History of Thailand. 2. edition Cambridge University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-521-76768-2, page 298
  4. Richard M. Gibson: The Secret Army. Chiang Kai-shek and the Drug Warlords of the Golden Triangle. John Wiley & Sons (Asia), Singapore 2011
  5. Pierre-Arnaud Chouvy: Opium. Uncovering the Politics of the Poppy. Harvard University Press, 2010, page 69.
  6. Thak Chaloemtiarana: Thailand. The Politics of Despotic Paternalism. Cornell Southeast Asia Program, Ithaca NY 2007, ISBN 978-0-87727-742-2, page 59.

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