Pubdate: Sun, 23 Mar 2003
Source: Boston Globe (MA)
Section: Page A6
Copyright: 2003 Globe Newspaper Company
Author: Richard C. Paddock, Los Angeles Times


Some Say Campaign Symbol Of Brutality, Police Corruption

BANGKOK - Thanom Monta and his wife, Kwanla Puangchompu, learned they were 
on a government blacklist of suspected drug dealers when they received a 
letter ordering them to report to police.

On Feb. 26, they rode their motorbike to a police station in the central 
city of Phetchabun. They were allowed to leave at 3 p.m., but before they 
had driven two miles, a car pulled alongside them and men inside opened 
fire. Both Thanom, 53, and Kwanla, 40, were killed.

With their deaths, the couple became part of Thailand's grisly success in 
its new war against drugs.

Officials report that at least 1,498 people have died since Feb. 1, when 
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared an all-out campaign against drug 
trafficking. Authorities say there are only three ways to get off the lists 
of drug dealers: get arrested, turn informant, or die.

Police acknowledge killing 31 suspected traffickers in self-defense but say 
the others were slain by drug lords seeking to silence potential informers.

"In this war, drug dealers must die," the prime minister said. "But we 
don't kill them. It's a matter of the bad guys killing the bad guys."

Interior Minister Wan Mohammed Noor Matha warned that drug dealers would 
"be put behind bars or even vanish without a trace," and added: "Who cares? 
They are destroying our country."

The slaying of suspected traffickers has broad public support in a nation 
fed up with an epidemic of drug abuse. But the killing spree has alarmed 
human rights advocates, who fear that the biggest casualty will be 
Thailand's rule of law.

Some rights activists say that police have organized death squads to kill 
traffickers and are covering up evidence of official involvement. They also 
charge that corrupt officers involved in the narcotics trade are colluding 
with drug lords to slay those who might betray them. There have been 
several cases, like the deaths in Phetchabun, in which suspects have been 
killed in broad daylight minutes after leaving a police station, activists say.

"In many provinces, there are death squads roaming around killing drug 
dealers," said Somchai Homlaor, secretary general of the human rights group 
Forum Asia. "The rule of law and democracy could disappear overnight."

One victim of the war was 9-year-old Chakraphan Srisa-ard. He was riding 
with his parents in a car in Bangkok on Feb. 23 when his father, Sataporn 
Srisa-ard, allegedly stopped to make a drug deal. Police say Sataporn tried 
to sell amphetamines to an undercover officer and was taken into custody.

When the boy's mother, Pornwipa Kerdrungruang, realized what was happening, 
she slipped behind the wheel and drove off. Police fired at the Honda, and 
the boy was hit twice. His mother ran from the car and escaped.

Police initially admitted shooting at the vehicle. Later, they blamed 
Chakraphan's death on his father's "guards," who police claim showed up 
moments after the arrest and shot at the car. Three police officers turned 
in guns for ballistics testing by their department's laboratory. No match 
to the bullets was found.

Many victims' families have been reluctant to complain publicly about the 
deaths of their loved ones, but Chakraphan's killing triggered widespread 
criticism of the drug war.

Jaran Pakdithanakul, secretary to the president of Thailand's supreme 
court, warned that summary executions by police were destroying the 
judicial system. He called the official account of the boy's killing 
"unbelievable" and said the nation must stop its "bloodthirsty police 

Some human rights activists fear a return to the ways of the military 
dictatorship that ruled Thailand from 1957 to 1973 and employed death 
squads to eliminate opponents.

Thaksin, a former police officer who became one of the country's wealthiest 
businessmen before being elected prime minister in 2001, prefers to cast 
himself as the nation's chief executive, bringing corporate standards to 
the running of government. At a recent Cabinet meeting, he recommended two 
books for his ministers to read on methods of business organization.

For the war on drugs, he has set quotas and deadlines for provincial 
governors and police chiefs to clear names from the blacklists. He has 
threatened to fire those who don't meet the quota, a move that critics say 
has prompted some officials to resort to illegal means to save their jobs.

"The government's strategy is to smoke out pushers, who will be eliminated 
by their own kind," Thaksin said. "I don't understand why some people are 
so concerned about them while neglecting to care for the future of 1 
million children who are being lured into becoming drug users."

Authorities say the country is suffering from an epidemic of 
methamphetamines known by the name "yaa baa," or crazy pills. Thaksin said 
that 3 million people - 5 percent of the country's population - use the 
drug, making Thailand the world's largest per-capita consumer of 

The little orange pills bearing the letters WY initially provide a sense of 
energy and well-being, but after prolonged use become debilitating. About 
80 percent of the yaa baa sold in Thailand is made in neigboring Burma, 
whose rulers know it as Myanmar, one of the major drug-producing nations. 
The rest is made in Thailand. The WY pills are exported around the world 
and have turned up in the United States, Europe, Japan, and Australia.

Thailand's narcotics agency has long kept a secret blacklist with the names 
of 25,000 suspected drug dealers. Two weeks before the drug war began, 
police officials and village chiefs hurriedly put together a second list 
with the names of 45,000 suspected traffickers, including some on the 
earlier roll. Together the two cover 55,000 people.

Authorities have no obligation to notify suspects that their names are on 
the lists, and there is no appeals process for suspects to contest their 

Since the campaign began, authorities say they have arrested about 30,000 
drug suspects, but few of them are major drug lords or accused of 
involvement in the nearly 1,500 deaths.

Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand, acting director of the government's Forensic 
Science Institute, said she presented evidence to the prime minister's 
office early this month showing that police were behind some of the 
killings. His office declined to investigate, she said.

The flamboyant coroner, who is known for her spiky red hair and 
independence, earlier accused police of torturing and killing suspects. She 
is regarded as the country's top forensic pathologist. However, since Feb. 
1 police have stopped calling her to murder scenes, she said, instead 
summoning doctors with no forensic experience.

"The police don't want me to find their lies," she said.

The killing of Thanom and Kwanla in Phetchabun might have received little 
notice except that their son, Suwit Baison, works as a cameraman at a 
Bangkok television station. The day after their deaths, he stopped Thaksin 
at a media event, knelt in front of him, and presented a petition seeking 
an investigation.

"I am afraid the culprit won't ever be caught, so I ask for justice from 
your excellency," Suwit told Thaksin.

The prime minister ordered police to investigate. So far, they say there 
are no leads in the killings.

Local authorities say Thanom and Kwanla had been arrested in the past for 
drug use, although it is unclear whether either was suspected of selling drugs.

"My mother just wanted to prove my father's innocence, and they ended up 
dead," Suwit said in an interview. "It's very cruel."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth