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Thai PM Opens 3-Month Anti-Drug Campaign - 2003-02-04

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has declared a special three-month campaign to rid Thailand of illegal narcotics, especially amphetamines. But some people fear human rights abuses as Thai police turn to extra-judicial measures to carry out the campaign.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra called on officials to rid the country of illicit narcotics by the end of April.

Thailand faces a mounting security threat, as more than 800 million methamphetamine tablets flood in from neighboring Burma. Thailand accuses Burma's ethnic United Wa State Army of producing the drugs and smuggling them into Thailand.

The Thai government warns there is a drug epidemic affecting up to three million youths. The government says numbers are growing despite tough jail sentences for drug users and dealers. For instance, teenagers caught with amphetamines can face 10 years in prison.

Besides methamphetamines, known as ya ba, or the crazy medicine Ecstasy, cocaine and ketamine are also being used heavily.

Sandro Calvani, the United Nations Drug Control Progam regional director, says Mr. Thaksin hopes to inject a sense of urgency in the campaign by setting a short deadline for officials to meet their goals.

"There is not a sense of urgency. There is not a sense of an extraordinary threat to the human security of the region, so exceptional measures have not been taken yet," said Mr. Calvani. "It is quite evident that he [Mr. Thaksin] has in mind the need for a special campaign and this should not be treated like any other regular problem of the country."

But there are fears that Thai police might resort to murder to show results during the campaign. Over the past few days, at least 23 people were killed in drug-related violence, raising fears that extra-judicial killings are taking place.

Newspaper editor Thepchai Yong welcomes the new focus on the drug problem but worries the campaign could trigger a wave of bloodshed. "My main concern is now that he [Mr. Thaksin] seems to be giving the green light to policemen to resort to what we are afraid will be extra-judicial killings of drug suspects," he said, "because it looks like the government is giving priority to body counts and numbers of drugs seized."

But National Police Chief General Sant Sarutanonda has downplayed these fears, saying police only acted in self-defense.

Western drug intelligence sources told VOA that the war against traffickers is hampered by cross-border collusion between drug producers and some authorities in Thailand.

The sources say unless drug factories in Burma are closed it will be impossible to halt the trade along the porous border region.

Thailand's anti-drug campaign also includes a range of education programs for schools, and work places. But Dr. Calvani says these are insufficient and calls for all civic, health and educational institutions to raise awareness of the risks from drugs.