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After 2625 Deaths Thai's Declare Drug War Victory

After 2,625 Deaths Thailand Declares Drug War Victory


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- The Thai government is declaring victory in its nationwide, U.S.-backed war on drugs, despite criticism over the killing of at least 2,625 people, most of whom perished in mysterious circumstances.

Thai security forces targeted methamphetamines, which they condemned as "yaa baa" or "crazy drug" because users were hailing the pills as "maa baa" or "horse drug" in praise of its ability to allow people to work harder.

Methamphetamines were created early in the 20th century from amphetamines, which the U.S. Air Force currently prescribes for its pilots as "go pills" while flying combat missions in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Various forms of methamphetamine are known in America as "tweak," "speed," "crank," "crissy," and ''tina".

In Thailand, widespread methamphetamine use, especially among youngsters, has shocked parents, teachers, politicians, security forces and others because some addicts have flipped out and attacked people or engaged in crime to feed their habit.

"The government would declare a victory in the drug war on Dec. 2," the prime minister's office promised earlier this year.

"The government's victory of freeing Thailand from illicit drugs" will be presented three days later, on Friday, to honor King Bhumibol Adulyadej who was born on Dec. 5, 1927, it said.

"We are now in a position to declare that drugs, which formerly were a big danger to our nation, can no longer hurt us," a pleased Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced on Monday (Dec. 1).

"Many Thai people now have their sons and daughters back," he said.

Prime Minister Thaksin, a former police officer who received a PhD in criminal justice at Sam Houston State University, in Texas, dismissed most of the 2,625 deaths as the result of gangs who killed each other during the government's drug war to silence potential informers.

"It may be a mark of Thai cynicism that almost no one believes these claims," the Bangkok Post said in an editorial on Tuesday (Dec. 2).

"It is also no matter of pride that many Thais support extrajudicial killings if they make drug peddlers disappear," the editorial said.

"This does not mean that drug problems have disappeared, but is intended to affirm the determination of all parties to continue fighting against social problems until they are eradicated," Bangkok Governor Samak Sundaravej said on Monday (Dec. 1).

The anti-drug death toll included at least 31 police and soldiers, according to the Thailand Research Development Institute and official statistics.

After the crackdown began in February, police arrested at least 91,000 people for alleged drug-related crimes, according to the government's Drug War Coordination Center.

"Most names are drawn from the results of community meetings, which offered an opportunity for officials with conflicts to enter the names of people unrelated to the drug trade," the National Human Rights Commission warned in a confidential summary sent to the prime minister on Nov. 25.

"Relatives of those accused are also lumped into the same category," the summary said, according to the Nation newspaper which published extracts on Tuesday (Dec. 2).

Officials also tested the urine of 118,489 people, nabbing 3,942 who tested positive for drug use, according to the Drug War Coordination Center.

Officials impounded or froze nearly five million U.S. dollars worth of assets linked to illicit drugs during the campaign, and seized more than 40 million methamphetamine pills, the center said.

Local and foreign human rights organizations expressed concern that the 2,625 dead included an unknown number of possible "extrajudicial" executions by officials brandishing hit lists and trying to meet the government's demand that their zone be "drug-free".

The government threatened some officials with dismissal if they failed to meet statistical targets, and promised others cash rewards if they succeeded.

Pictures of corpses, splattered with congealed blood, appeared on TV screens and in newspapers during the first few months of the campaign while the government proudly announced the latest toll of dead and injured.

When the killings attracted international concern, the government clamped an end to the gruesome updates which hit 2,625 in November.

Much of the methamphetamine production is blamed on laboratories across the border in Burma where minority ethnic guerrillas create or tax various drugs, including opium and heroin, for shipment to Thailand and other countries.

"They [drugs] are still illegally smuggled into the country in huge amounts," said Jurin Laksanavisit, an unimpressed deputy leader of the opposition's Democrat Party.

Many Thais were said to be selling the addictive stimulant to get rich quick, amid a societal shift toward status-conscious consumerism in this rapidly modernizing, Buddhist-majority nation.

Critics of the war on drugs insisted only low-level dealers and users were killed or arrested, while most of Thailand's' drug lords remained untouched.

The government, however, pointed to spiraling prices for the little pills as proof that the suppression was successful.

Last year, one meth pill cost two or three U.S. dollars in this Southeast Asian nation, but now reportedly fetch up to 10 U.S. dollars each, officials said.

The widespread killings, they insisted, were difficult to prosecute because the country's police and investigative skills were not sophisticated enough to determine who did what in such murky cases.

"I don't know if it is by nature or deliberate, but Thai criminal justice is problematic," said Charnchao Chaiyanukij, deputy-general of the Rights and Liberty Protection Department.

"Regarding recent press allegations that Thai security services carried out extrajudicial killings during a counternarcotics campaign in Thailand, Prime Minister Thaksin stated unequivocally that the Thai government does not tolerate extrajudicial killings and assured President Bush that all allegations regarding killings are being investigated thoroughly," said a joint statement issued by the White House when the two leaders met in Washington in June.

"President Bush appreciated Thailand's leadership in hosting one of the largest and most successful U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration operations in the world as well as the U.S.-Thai International Law Enforcement Academy," the White House said at the time.

**-ENDS-**

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 25 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is www.geocities.com/glossograph/

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