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Concern Grows Over Extra-Judicial Killings in Thailand - 2003-03-01

Thailand's foreign ministry will brief diplomats Monday over the government's current war on drugs as international concern grows over allegations of extra-judicial killings. But Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says the campaign will continue even as the death toll climbs above 1,000.

Only one month after it was launched, the death toll in Thailand's war on drugs is more than 1,100. Twenty-eight of the deaths are directly related to gunfights with police, according to Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

But Mr. Thaksin, in his weekly radio address, says his government will press on with the campaign and called for listeners to remain steadfast.

The crackdown has triggered fears among international and local human rights groups that some of the deaths are extra-judicial killings. Television news reports carry gristly footage of murders, including the fatal shooting of at least two children less than 10-years-old.

The foreign ministry spokesman, Sihasak Phuangketkeow, says he wants to reassure diplomats and the international community that all is being carried out according to law.

"The point we would like to emphasize that whatever the circumstances that these deaths will be investigated under the law and if people have committed wrongdoing they will be prosecuted," he said.

But rights groups are worried the police are out of control. Somchai Homloar is the spokesman for the human rights organization Forum Asia.

"The government said that there is killing among the drug dealers. But we have found that the government officers, especially the police, might be involved in that killing," he said. " So this we consider the extra-judicial killing that is really against the principle of the rule of law in Thailand."

Mr. Somchai also accused some police of being directly linked to the drug business.

Foreign ministry spokesman Mr. Sihasak says the government has set up two independent panels to investigate corruption and to re-investigate cases at the request of relatives of victims.

The crackdown, which still has two months to go, is focused on methamphetamines. Authorities estimate that three million Thais are addicted to the drug commonly known as "yaa baa" or crazy medicine.

More than 800 million methamphetamine tablets, manufactured by Burma's ethnic minority groups in league with Thai criminal gangs, flood into Thailand each year.