Pubdate: Sat, 29 Mar 2003
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Copyright: 2003 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc
Author: Richard C. Paddock


1,500 People Reportedly Have Died Since A Government Crackdown Began Feb. 
1. BANGKOK, Thailand - 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."

'Vanish Without a Trace'

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 killings have alarmed 
human-rights advocates, who fear that the biggest casualty will be 
Thailand's rule of law.

Some rights activists contend 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, such as 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."

A 9-Year-Old Victim

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 acknowledged 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.

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.

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