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Ehrlich: Thailand's War On Drugs Begins A Fresh

Thailand's War On Drugs Begins A Fresh

by Richard S. Ehrlich

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Thailand has declared a fresh war on drugs, vowing to send dealers and smugglers to "hell", and shrugged off complaints by human rights groups that the previous crackdown left 2,500 people dead, mostly in unsolved murders.

"Ecstasy has been smuggled from Malaysia, while cocaine has been flown in by Africans," Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a former police officer, announced at a Police Society meeting.

Relatively high prices for Ecstasy and cocaine -- popular at indoor discos and "raves" on beaches at night -- have resulted in dealers targeting middle- and upper-class customers, causing alarm among the nation's elite.

"Ketamine has been brought in via Cambodia where it is not considered a drug," the prime minister added in his Monday (Oct. 4) speech announcing the fresh campaign called, "The War on Addictive Drugs".

Ketamine hydrochloride was created as a "dissociative" anaesthetic to separate perception from sensation, but high doses depress breathing and can cause death.

"Marijuana is now popular among Bangkok teenagers. It is not as dangerous as other kinds of drugs, but it can directly lead to harmful ones," Mr. Thaksin said.

Much of Thailand's cheap, illegal weed grows in the arid, impoverished northeast and is often used by lower-class laborers.

Foreign tourists, including elderly visitors, have meanwhile expressed outrage at being forced to urinate while visiting upscale bars and nightclubs during occasional police raids in Bangkok and elsewhere.

Cops lock the premises' doors for hours while medical staff use chemical kits to examine specimens at the site to catch Thai and foreign users, despite concern that the raids will backfire on the tourist industry.

The prime minister also warned against heroin, which originates mostly in neighboring Burma where rebels dominate opium-growing zones and turn the poppies' thick sap into white powder which is injected, snorted or smoked.

But this Southeast Asian nation's biggest problem is methamphetamine because the inexpensive tablets are gobbled by Thai students, slum dwellers and others, cutting across socio-economic classes and addicting countless youngsters and adults.

Speed pills are manufactured throughout Asia, but an increasing number are churned out via small makeshift labs in Thailand.

"Drug dealers and traffickers are heartless and wicked," Mr. Thaksin declared on Sunday (Oct. 3).

"All of them must be sent to meet the Guardian of Hell, so that there will not be any drugs in the country," he demanded, referring to a fanged demon who emerges from flames wearing a necklace of skulls, brandishes a sharpened trident and metes out eternal punishment to sinners, according to Thailand's mix of Buddhist and animist beliefs.

"The prime minister should not have said he will send drug traffickers and dealers to meet the Guardian of Hell," said Senator Thongbai Thongpao.

"It seems that he is sending a clear message to encourage anyone to freely silence those suspected of being involved in drugs," Mr. Thongbai said, according to the Bangkok Post.

International and local human rights groups castigated the prime minister for his first "war on drugs" last year which left about 2,500 people dead in unexplained circumstances.

Activists claimed many of them fell victim to extrajudicial executions by police competing to fill quotas under pressure to perform or lose their jobs.

Complaints also focused on allegedly innocent people who were fingered by enemies, bribe-seeking officials, or sloppy investigations, and later found dead.

Police and officials however said most of the 2,500 deaths resulted from drug gangs killing each other to silence potential informers and decimate rivals.

When only a handful of the 2,500 cases were investigated, critics then insisted the government focus on the shocking number of unsolved murders instead of harping on drugs.

The new campaign will start by cracking down on Bangkok's squalid, crowded Klong Toey slum along the Chao Phraya river where entire families consume -- and sell -- methamphetamines and other drugs to each other in a worsening spiral of addiction and misery.

Police were told to nab and frisk motorcyclists because they often transport drugs through the slum's narrow, winding alleys.

****** -ENDS- ******

Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 26 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

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