Pubdate: Thu, 24 Apr 2003
Source: BBC News (UK Web)
Copyright: 2003 BBC
Author: Toom Aroonskun, BBC, Northern Thailand 
Note: On Feb. 1, 2003, Thailand instituted a 3-month campaign to eradicate
all drugs.


The Thai Government's war against drugs is reaching its final stages.

Having targeted the dealers and distribution networks, the government is now
turning its attention to addicts.

About 15 minutes drive from the centre of Thailand's northern capital,
Chiang Mai, is a camp for recovering drug addicts.

It is a vigorous, military-style training camp for about 200 female inmates.

But the women at the camp have not chosen to come. Forced rehabilitation is
the last part of the Thai Government's war on drugs.

Battalion commander Wipusana, the director of the camp, said: "We wake up at
5.30 in the morning then we do physical training.

"At 7am we have breakfast and from 8am until noon we have a classroom

When they are not in class, inmates labour in the fields around the camp,
growing fruit and vegetables.

Many of the women did not turn to drugs for recreational purposes.

Pannee said it was poverty that drove her to traffic ya baa, or

"I'm very poor. I'm now 46 years old and I have 2 children. My children
don't go to school because I don't have the money," she said.

"Many years ago I didn't even have a house. I saw my neighbours driving
trucks delivering drugs, and they could pay off their debts. So I did it

Every morning the inmates have to chant in unison: "We vow to dedicate our
lives to the fight against drugs forever."

The camp commander hopes that when his prisoners leave in six months time,
they will take this message with them.

Nationwide Crackdown

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawtra recently visited Chiang Mai, to launch
a nationwide programme of camps like this one.

He told an audience of policemen he was happy with the result of the
hardline war on drugs.

His policy bears the hallmark of a prime minister who wants to be remembered
as a man of action, and he is confident he can rid the country of drugs.

"We're quite positive that we can eradicate drugs from Thailand," Mr Thaksin

But critics say the war on drugs is only designed to boost Mr Thaksin's
popularity, and measures like the boot camp will have no long-lasting

Shawn Nance, who has been working with villagers in the Chiang Mai area for
several years, doubts the scheme will work.

"I'm not sure rehab will be very successful," he said, "unless the
conditions of people's lives are changed."

"People leave rehab and enter the same kind of living conditions, and often
resort back to drugs," he said.

Wanapa, a camp inmate and former nightclub singer, said she started to use
methamphetamines to cope with the long hours of her job.

"I worked at night from 8 o'clock to at least two the next morning. My other
singing friends told me to try methamphetamines to gain strength. So I did,
and I became addicted."

Although she is adamant she will never use drugs again, Wanapa will probably
have to go back to those long hours when she leaves the boot camp.
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