Pubdate: Mon, 03 Mar 2003
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2003 Guardian Newspapers Limited
Author: John Aglionby, south-east Asia correspondent


Thailand's populist prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, has admitted
for the first time that mistakes have been made in his month-long
"eye-for-an-eye" war on drugs that has claimed more than 1,140 lives.

But Mr Thaksin remains unrepentant about the bloody campaign,
dismissing widespread allegations that many of the deaths are
extra-judicial killings by the police.

"It's normal that we have some mistakes in such a big war, and a few
cases may be the work of officers since there are some bad officers,"
he said in his weekly radio address on Saturday. "We have to resolve
the problem."

There was an outcry last week over the killing, probably by the
police, of an eight-year-old boy, Chakkapan Srisa-ard.

Mr Thaksin said police were responsible for only 28 of the deaths, and
all of those were in self-defence.

The police yesterday put the death toll at 1,035, including 31 shot by
officers. The authorities say most of those who have died have been
the victims of the drugs gangs' drive to silence potential informers,
but human rights activists say the police could well be responsible
for several hundred of the deaths. Mr Thaksin established two
committees on Friday to examine police behaviour during the campaign.

"Don't be moved by the high death figures," Mr Thaksin said in his

"We must be adamant and finish this war. Don't you worry about our
next generation? When you go to war and some of your enemies die, you
cannot become soft-hearted, otherwise the surviving enemy will return
to kill you."

The prime minister urged people to focus on other figures: 29,500
arrests and the seizure of 5m methamphetamine pills. He said the
campaign would be extended beyond its planned three months.

Thailand is considered the world's largest market for
methamphetamines, also known as speed, with 5% of the population
thought to be regular users.

Many analysts say the seizures will make little difference as the
supply - mainly from neighbouring Burma - has barely been contained.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake