Pubdate: Tue, 27 Nov 2007
Source: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Copyright: The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2007
Author: Surasak Glahan


Veteran politician Chalerm Yubamrung recently joined the People Power
Party (PPP) and is seen as its number two. Over the past month, he has
expressed his ambition to become interior minister and revive the
Thaksin Shinawatra government's controversial war on drugs, which led
to the deaths of more than 2,500 people in alleged extra-judicial
killings by police. Surasak Glahan asked him how he plans to revive
the policy. Below are excerpts from the interview.

Do you intend to use the same heavy-handed approach applied by the
Thaksin administration?

Drug suppression needs to be handled seriously, the same way the
Thaksin administration did. Regarding the extra-judicial killings,
people misunderstood that authorities killed innocent people. Instead,
it could be that people were killed by their peers to cut the leads
for authorities to pursue.

I think the drug problem cannot be settled as just part of the
national agenda, but must be seen as a security issue. I plan to have
state agencies, such as the national police unit and the interior,
education and public health ministries, working together in an
integrated manner.

There should be a system to distinguish small-time and medium-sized
dealers from the big fish. We must regard drug users as patients and
set up agencies to provide treatment and rehabilitation as well as
counselling for them. In addition, all metropolitan and provincial
police bureaus must have their own drug suppression unit.

Will you set timeframes for achievement like the past

We will work based on what the Thaksin government did, and will
continue from there. We need to allocate a budget for this and inform
people that it is a security issue, so no one will oppose it.

We will declare a new phase of the war on drugs. We also aim to reduce
the number of drug users, so there will be both prevention and

Don't you think the implementation of this policy should be conducted
in a careful and gradual manner?

Illicit drug suppression cannot be handled gradually. It needs
timeframes and targets, as well as authorities staying alert. But when
there are mistakes and doubts, we need to clear the air promptly. It
needs to be strictly, urgently and hastily handled with the provision
of special taskforces.

The Thaksin administration set a target for each province to list
local dealers. Do you intend to do the same?

It won't be changed. If we are worried about more extra-judicial
killings, we have to find out first whether the killings, if they
happen, were driven by large drug traders or by authorities.

Should people be concerned about whether innocent people will be
victimised by this policy, or by more extra-judicial killings?

There won't be victimisation of innocent people. Those who were
affected are not the real innocents. The police did not just break
into someone's bedroom and shoot them.

Critics said the past government's policy was hastily implemented with
timeframes set for achievement, and thus it forced authorities to
produce an outcome and resulted in the killings. Do you agree?

No. That's just criticism. When you work, you need to set targets. The
past government just intended to curb the problems.

But the policy affected mostly small-time dealers and innocent people,
while the big fish still got away with it. Is your strategy focused on
the big fish?

I cannot be specific now. But it is necessary to go after small-time
dealers and medium-sized traders as well because that is how the drug
trade operates. The Thaksin government set up a very good suppression
format, and we will only make some additions.

Will you support the work of the committee, appointed by the current
government, investigating the war on drugs policy?

Yes, so that we can prove who the real culprits are.

Once the panel's investigation results come out and certain
authorities are found guilty, will you ensure justice for the victims?

Absolutely, the culprits must be punished, but those who are not
guilty should be protected as well.

Do you think the Thaksin policy had any faults, and if so how do you
plan to correct them?

There were not any failures. Some people just accused the then
government. There was a high number of killings, but no one knew who
carried out the activities.

Is the war on drugs policy a political gimmick to instigate fear as
well as trying to gain votes from fretting parents?

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