Pubdate: Thu, 01 May 2003
Source: Financial Times (UK)
Copyright: The Financial Times Limited 2003
Author: Amy Kazmin and William Barnes


Thailand has proclaimed that its bloody, three-month war against the drug 
trade - which has seen the deaths of 2,275 people accused of peddling drugs 
- - had eliminated 90 per cent of the country's drug trade.

Thai authorities said that during the campaign they arrested 17,000 people, 
seized 15m amphetamine pills and confiscated assets worth Bt1.1bn 
($26m,  23.5m, UKP16m) from suspected drug dealers.

Thaksin Shinawatra, prime minister, said the effort had "eradicated about 
90 per cent" of Thailand's drug problem, although final mop up operations 
could take another six months.

With the declaration of victory, Mr Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai (Thais 
Love Thais) party government are expected soon to launch a crackdown on the 
estimated 1m illegal migrants working in Thailand.

"He is on a roll and he feels invincible," said Sunai Phasuk, a political 
analyst with the independent human rights group Forum Asia. "He has gotten 
away with this and the big question now is: who is next?"

The launch of Mr Thaksin's three-month war on drugs was accompanied by 
comments from senior ministers that "bad guys deserve to die". Local 
officials were assigned ambitious numerical targets for "getting rid of 
drug dealers", while those who balked were reminded of ancient kings who 
"beheaded" officials for failing to meet goals.

The subsequent deaths of more than 2,275 people - many of whom were 
dispatched by motorcycle-borne gunmen after answering summons to their 
local police stations - sparked fierce criticism from human rights groups.

But Mr Thaksin appears unlikely to suffer any domestic or international 
backlash for the violence, which he blamed largely on drug dealers killing 
each other. Police say they killed 51 suspects who were resisting arrest.

For all the bloodshed, many analysts suspect the campaign will have only a 
passing impact on a trade that is controlled by shadowy, more senior figures.

"This must be viewed as a political war," said a diplomat. "This is a 
marketing government that has responded to popular demand. It's a branding 

An effort to drive illegal migrant workers out of Thailand is likely to 
find equal favour among an increasingly nationalistic Thai public.

Local newspapers accuse illegal workers - mostly from Thailand's neighbours 
Burma and Cambodia - of spreading disease, violence and depressing local wages.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth