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Rise in opium trade stretches polic

Subject: Rise in opium trade stretches police effort

Local & Politics 

     Rise in opium trade
     stretches police effort

     THE trafficking of opium from Burma to
     Thailand has increased, posing an extra
     burden on Thailand's anti-narcotics efforts
     which are currently focused on combating the
     influx of amphetamines into the country's
     high-demand market. 

     Phinyo Thongchai, director of the
     Anti-Narcotics Bureau for Thailand's Northern
     region, said yesterday that the demand for
     opium imported from Burma had resulted
     from the Thai authorities' successful
     eradication of opium plantations in the North
     of the country. 

     He said that about 60 per cent of the 9006-rai
     plots of opium fields which were dotted along
     the northern provinces of Chiang Rai, Chiang
     Mai, Mae Hong Son and down to Tak, had
     been eradicated. The combined area is
     capable of yielding up to 10 tons of opium a
     year -- a third of the amount required for the
     illegal trade. 

     Phinyo yesterday briefed a group of local and
     foreign reporters about the narcotics situation
     in the North, which has recently become the
     scene of several fatal clashes between Thai
     police and border security patrols and drug

     The briefing came as security officials began
     a ''no more compromise'' campaign along the
     Northern border villages to wipe out drug
     lords and traffickers. 

     Phinyo said the United Wa State Army, the
     Burmese ethnic armed group which controls
     the area north of Burma's Shan state,
     remained the single-largest drug producer in
     the Golden Triangle, the world's largest
     opium field area, bordering Thailand, Laos
     and Burma. 

     He said the trafficking of amphetamines had
     increased to 500,000 tons a year. Both
     amphetamines and heroin were smuggled into
     Thailand from the areas under the control of
     Wa's rival group, the Mong Tai Army, which
     belongs to former subordinates of Burmese
     drugs warlord Khun Sa, who ceased his
     autonomy struggle in favour of amnesty from

     The areas are opposite the Thai border
     towns of Pai, Bang Ma Pa, Mae Fa Luang,

     Mae Sai and Mae Chan. 

     Phinyo admitted the difficulty in checking the
     influx of drugs because of the long porous
     border between Thailand and Burma. He
     added that the traffickers had diverted the
     smuggling routes to use minor roads, as well
     as using new means of transportation to
     avoid police checks. 

     The traditional route, which ran southwards
     from the border at Mae Sai and Wian Pa Pao
     in Chiang Rai, has been shifted to outside
     Thailand and runs from the Burmese side to
     enter Thai territory at Tak, Kanchanaburi or
     Ranong. The other route runs along the
     Mekong River, embarking at Uttaradit, Nan
     and other Northeastern provinces. 

     Phinyo said Lamphun had now become a
     major storage house for the smuggled drugs
     because of the complacency of the
     authorities. ''The traffickers choose as a
     storage site a province which has a small
     drugs problem, to avoid police checks and
     searches,'' he said. 

     He said the traders also used cold-storage
     trucks and transport vehicles of the Express
     Transportation Organisation of Thailand to
     divert police attention. He estimated around
     5,000 drug-laden trucks were on the road
     each day. 

     Cheap amphetamines, known in Thailand as
     ''yaa baa'' (crazy drug), have flooded Thai
     towns and cities and led to a rapid rise in
     addiction, crime and violence, especially
     among young people. 

     üSUPREME Commander Gen Mongkhol
     Ampornpisit yesterday declared drastic action
     against the trade in amphetamines, especially
     the trafficking of the drugs into the country by
     members of Burmese minority groups. 

     The military's preparation against the drug
     trade includes the establishment of an
     anti-drug cooperation centre, involving the
     participation of military units and uniformed

     Mongkhol confirmed a news report that a
     battalion of fully-armed soldiers had been
     stationed at all major checkpoints along the
     Thai-Burmese border in areas under the Third
     Army Region, to guard against the trafficking.
     He added that reinforcements would be
     immediately available upon request. 

     Meanwhile, police nationwide made five major
     arrests of Thai amphetamine traders, netting
     13 suspects and seizing more than 660,000
     tablets worth nearly Bt50 million. 

     Yesterday's largest haul totalled 596,000
     tablets seized from three big-time traders in
     Chiang Mai, who unsuccessfully attempted to
     bribe a highway police team with Bt2 million in
     cash, as well as a Mercedes-Benz and a new
     pick-up truck. 

     After the arrest of Niphas Watcharakornsri
     and Sanya Niampha and his wife Amphai,
     police seized five vehicles they had allegedly
     used in their illicit trade, as well as three bank
     accounts. The seized assets, including the
     tablets, are worth over Bt67.2 million. 


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