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US Black Hawks Asist Thai War On Drugs/Militants

US Black Hawks Asist Thai War On Drugs/Militants


by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Washington has delivered 30 helicopters to Bangkok to help it crush Muslim militants in the south and guard against illegal drug trafficking in the north.

"We know you will make good use of these UH-1s, as you have the Black Hawks you have purchased [during] the past several years, and which we hope will be the long-term future of army aviation in Thailand," U.S. Ambassador Darryl N. Johnson told military officers.

"Last week, the U.S. Commander of Pacific Forces, Admiral Fargo, and I met with Prime Minister Thaksin. The prime minister mentioned the difficulty the Royal Thai Army (RTA) faces, in having been trained and equipped to fight communists in the jungle, or counter an invasion from outside the country," the ambassador said, referring to dangers Thailand and America perceived during the past three decades.

"Now the challenges are different, particularly in countering the unrest in the south, as well as in countering drug traffickers," he said.

"Mobility is essential, as is the need to be able to deploy forces rapidly. RTA helicopters can and will play a crucial role in these missions," Ambassador Johnson said.

The envoy announced the delivery of 30 "refurbished" UH-1 helicopters to the Royal Thai Army at the RTA Aviation Center in Lopburi province, the U.S. Embassy said on Tuesday (June 29).

The helicopters, plus spare parts and training, totaled about 30 million U.S. dollars, the embassy said.

"UH-1s are normally used for day-to-day operations, generally transporting troops and light equipment. These UH-1s were used by the U.S. Army from 1967 to 1990," the embassy added.

In May, Ambassador Johnson said in a speech: "Whether the security threat is domestic, as in the case in southern Thailand, or transnational terrorism, as in the case of the September 11 attacks in the U.S. and the 2002 Bali attack in Indonesia, like-minded countries in the international community must come together and protect ourselves, our societies, and our citizens from the menace of militants and terrorists who seek to destroy the fabric of our free societies."

Thailand's Muslim militants have been blamed for virtually daily attacks against Thai security forces, Buddhist clergy, businessmen, plantation workers, teachers and civilians in the south.

Bangkok has poured hundreds of extra troops into the area to guard Buddhist temples and schools and to beef up patrols, but militants have continued their attacks using machetes, assault rifles, home-made bombs and rocket-propelled grenades.

The worst one-day of violence in Thailand's recent history occurred on April 28 when Thai security forces, backed by armored personnel carriers and helicopters, killed 38 suspected Islamic militants inside the Krue Se mosque in the southern city of Pattani, plus about 70 other Muslim fighters in scattered clashes.

Five Thai security forces also died, bringing the day's total death toll to 112.

About 95 percent of Thailand's population are Buddhist, but Muslims form a majority in the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat, Satun and Songkhla -- much of which is currently under martial law.

Shortly after the April 28 bloodshed, the Thai government described the violence as an "internal" problem caused by Thai Muslim "militants" and not linked to foreign terrorists.

International and Thai human rights groups, however, criticized Bangkok for appearing to use excessive force when hunting down Muslim suspects.

They also criticized Thailand for its "war on drugs" which resulted in more than 2,000 deaths last year.

Most of the deaths were described by officials as smugglers killing each other. But critics point to a lack of arrests and convictions for the large number of murders.

Thailand's biggest drug problem involves production and consumption of methamphetamines, which have spread from construction workers and truck drivers to include students and high society personalities.

Bangkok successfully suppressed much of its earlier opium and heroin production, but still suffers from smugglers who bring those narcotics from Burma into northern Thailand for domestic use and international syndicates.

*** #### ***

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 http://www.geocities.com/glossograph/


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