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Thai Prime Minister Declares Victory in Drug War - 2003-12-03

Thailand's prime minister has declared victory in a 10-month campaign to eradicate illegal drugs. However, many critics question just how successful the campaign was.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra says the drug trade has been brought almost totally under control. Mr. Thaksin says what is left of the illegal trade is too small to affect the everyday lives of citizens anymore. And he says hundreds of thousands of parents now have their sons and daughters back from drug use.

The government says police seized some 40 million methamphetamine pills during the campaign as well as smaller amounts of heroin and other drugs.

The government says 52,000 drug producers and dealers were arrested and 1,200 officials are being prosecuted for involvement in the trade. In addition, it says 300,000 drug users went into rehabilitation programs, four times the number of the previous year.

However, human rights groups have criticized the campaign, saying police killed more than two thousand alleged drug dealers, many of whom were innocent. Other activists say drug addicts now have become too afraid to seek help.

The head of the National Human Rights Commission, Pradit Chareonthaitawee, says that although some of the killings have been investigated, none of them have been referred for prosecution. "It should be done by follow[ing] the law, follow the constitution and follow the international agreements or conventions."

The government says police killed 42 people in shootouts, and that the others were murdered by drug dealers who feared being exposed.

Civic groups working with drug addicts say the campaign has cut the volume of illegal drugs, sending their prices skyrocketing. But they are skeptical of the campaign's long-term effects.

Prateep Ungsongtham Hata runs a drug treatment program that operates in Bangkok's Klong Toey slum. She there have been no new drug users at the foundation in recent months. She says about one-half of the users in her area have sought treatment, but others merely switched to other drugs. "Another 50 percent, they turned to sniffing glue or taking alcohol," she says. "But maybe this is even worse."

Other critics say most of the drug kingpins are still at large, waiting for the campaign to subside so that they can resume the illegal trade. Despite the criticism, Mr. Thaksin says the campaign will continue, to prevent a resurgence of the scourge.

The Thai public has approved of the campaign, which the government kicked off in February. It followed a report by the United Nations saying five percent of the population over 15 years of age used amphetamines.

Mr. Thaksin has also initiated a campaign to stamp out what he calls "dark influences," such as corruption. And he says he now will start a war on poverty.