Thailand launches new war against illegal drugs

AP News
Posted: Sep 13, 2011 9:39 AM
Thailand launches new war against illegal drugs

The Thai government has launched a new campaign against illegal drugs but says it will not repeat the mistakes of an earlier push in 2003 when at least 2,300 accused dealers were killed.

Activists say many of the suspects were innocent, and that many died in extrajudicial executions. However, the government at the time led by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the suspects died in shootouts with officers or were killed by other dealers to eliminate informers or rivals.

The new government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra _ Thaksin's sister _ will undertake an urgent anti-drug initiative in its first year, spokeswoman Thitima Chaisaeng said Tuesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubumrung, who is in charge of the new campaign, said Monday that previous mistakes won't be repeated and that "there will be no license to kill."

Thitima said drugs were once again a "severe problem" and the issue must be addressed.

A United Nations report released in Bangkok on Tuesday agreed, saying amphetamine-type stimulants are now the primary illicit drug threat, displacing heroin, opium and marijuana.

Methamphetamine pill seizures in Southeast Asia quadrupled from 32 million in 2008 to 133 million in 2010, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime report.

"These drugs are affordable, easy to manufacture and highly profitable for criminal groups," said Gary Lewis, UNODC regional representative for East Asia and the Pacific.

Crystal methamphetamine is another challenge because it is injected so there is the added risk of HIV infection, he said.

Crystal meth seizures in Thailand increased from 53 kilograms (117 pounds) in 2008 to 773 kilograms (1,700 pounds) in 2010, Lewis said.

Kraisak Choonhavan, a former member of Parliament with the Democrat party, said Thailand's drug problem needs attention, but he's concerned about the approach.

Kraisak was a vocal critic of the alleged abuses and killings during Thaksin's 2003 crackdown. He told The Associated Press on Tuesday the government needs to be put on notice that a repeat of the killings during that crackdown will be unacceptable.

Despite the alleged abuses, the 2003 drug war was highly popular in some rural areas and slums where a tide of methamphetamines from neighboring Myanmar led to soaring addiction and crime.

"It made Thaksin popular so they'll do it again," Kraisak said of the new crackdown.