Pubdate: Sun, 18 Apr 2010
Source: Bangkok Post (Thailand)
Copyright: The Post Publishing Public Co., Ltd. 2010
Author: Maxmilian Wechsler


Faced with an increase in the amount of drugs being smuggled into the 
country, officials are seeking closer co-operation with foreign agencies

Thailand is in the middle of a growing drug war, and is not only 
confronting the problem on the home front but is also battling it as 
far away as the Middle East and West Africa.

But the man at the centre of the fight against the illicit drug 
trade, Police General Krisna Polananta, secretary-general of the 
Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB), concedes that despite 
the best efforts of government agencies and their foreign 
counterparts, the lucrative business is increasing.

Pol Gen Krisna confirmed that local and international law enforcement 
agencies are concerned that more drugs are being smuggled into 
Thailand by the ethnic Wa Army, which is building up its war chest 
for a possible confrontation with the Burmese military over their 
refusal to join the junta's Border Guard Force.

"The Wa are preparing for an armed conflict," said Pol Gen Krisna. 
"They need money to buy weapons, and that's why they are producing 
more drugs. Some are stockpiled and ready for an immediate sale. More 
drugs, such as methamphetamine tablets [ya ba] and crystal 
methamphetamine [ice] are also coming through Laos to Thailand."

Comparisons of past statistics from the ONCB with drug cases so far 
this year bear out the argument. In 2009, 26.6 million ya ba tablets 
were seized, but Pol Gen Krisna says increased smuggling is already 
being reflected by large seizures of the drug in Bangkok this year. 
Interestingly, almost half the ya ba seizures in 2009 were in the 
final three months of the year, when tensions started to rise between 
the Wa and Burmese armies.

"About two months ago we confiscated around three million tablets and 
recently about 1.5 million more.  These were bought on the border and 
taken to Bangkok.  The people responsible for these shipments were 
big dealers who purchase directly from the Wa people," Pol Gen Krisna 

He added that there were new ways to smuggle drugs and new marketing 
strategies for drug dealers who now buy narcotics along the border.

"They can make contact with the sellers by mobile phone even if they 
are up to 10 kilometres inside Myanmar [Burma]," Pol Gen Krisna said.

"Buyers can even get credit. They can open a bank account and send 
money through the banking system. In border areas we found many 
accounts belonging to small drug dealers who are using ATM machines 
to do business.  Some of them have 100 or even 200 banks accounts 
with ATM cards."

Trouble From Overseas

Pol Gen Krisna said that Thailand was not only facing an influx of 
drugs from neighbouring countries, but that they were now also being 
smuggled in from the Middle East.

"Since last year we have arrested drug traffickers carrying ice, 
mainly Iranians, who flew directly from Dubai, Iran or Turkey to 
Suvarnabhumi airport," he said.

"We are now seeking information on which middle-eastern country the 
ice is produced in and coming from.  However, it's not only Iranians 
who smuggle drugs to Thailand, but also Pakistanis who smuggle heroin 
from the Golden Crescent [the border areas between Afghanistan, Iran 
and Pakistan]. We have arrested several of them at Suvarnabhumi as well."

Another problem is a West African syndicate based in Bangkok, that 
plays a big role in the regional drug scene.

"They recruit Laotian, Malaysian, Philippine and Thai women as 
couriers to smuggle cocaine to Thailand and elsewhere. They often fly 
from Argentina to Kuala Lumpur, then to Bangkok or to Cambodia, and 
from there to Bangkok by sea or land.

"West Africans are very clever and sophisticated. They are active not 
only in Thailand but all over the world.  Countries including 
Australia, China, Japan and others have the same problem with them. 
We are talking about people from several West African countries," Pol 
Gen Krisna said.

However, the general added that there was not much of a local market 
for cocaine, which is mainly smuggled from South America, and Bangkok 
is mainly a transit point to other countries.

"West Africans are also involved in smuggling heroin by using female 
couriers to carry it from India and Pakistan to Malaysia or Bangkok. 
We've arrested many of them. Some are en route to China, where they 
have also been arrested, and this includes some Thai women," he said.

He pointed out that Suvarnabhumi is not the only airport used by drug 
smugglers in the region _ airports in countries including Indonesia 
and Malaysia face the same problem.

"Thailand is not the only victim of drug traffickers in Southeast 
Asia _ other nations in the region are affected as well. They [the 
smugglers] move rapidly, from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur, to China and 
so on _ they have established a number of networks and channels to 
enable them to conduct their business.

Fighting international drug syndicates requires a united effort, 
sharing intelligence with many countries, including many outside the region.

"Recently, in Tokyo, I met with my counterparts from Dubai, India, 
Pakistan and most importantly, Iran," Pol Gen Krisna said.

"We talked about sharing intelligence and what is going on now. We 
will inform them every time there's an arrest or seizure of drugs 
involving their country. We have already developed a good 
communication system that enables us to contact each other at anytime.

"As for the organisers of smuggling, we receive information about 
them. In fact, we know quite a bit of intelligence on the West 
Africans who are the masterminds. Even if it is hard to penetrate 
their organisation, we do have some channels."

Trafficking Gangs

Concerning Thai networks, the general said: "We have recently 
arrested some big guys. In the past, there were several large gangs, 
but now we have many small dealers who contact the suppliers directly."

As to whether there is a "big man", maybe a politician, involved in 
the drug business, Pol Gen Krisna said: "I don't believe a politician 
is involved at this time. There might be up-country, but not at a 
national level.

"We found that ice has replaced cocaine in Thailand.  Ice is cheaper 
and the dealers are doing a lot of marketing here, and Thai addicts 
now prefer ice to cocaine. Most of the ice consumed in Thailand is 
made and smuggled in from a neighbouring country. I don't think that 
ice smuggled from the Middle East is used by addicts here, but sent 
to other countries, including Japan."

The general disclosed that ice from the Middle East is of low 
quality, with a purity of about 60-70%, while the purity of ice 
manufactured by the Wa is between 90% and 97%, and is consequently 
more expensive.

As for co-operation with other Southeast Asian countries, he said: 
"We are facing drug smuggling in border areas, particularly in the 
North and the Northeast. Co-operation between countries is very 
important nowadays. We now co-operate very closely with the Myanmar 
law enforcement people. Every time we make an arrest, we share 
information with them so that they can then follow-up and arrest 
people with drugs in their territory. We also co-operate in a similar 
fashion with Laos.

"Recently we hosted a meeting in Chiang Mai attended by officials 
from Myanmar, Laos and China. We found out we share a problem along 
the Mekong River. There's a large group of drug smugglers, like a 
small army, who are well armed and not long ago killed 15 Myanmar 
policemen on the Mekong, only 8km from Mae Sai. We have shared 
information on the gang, and they are now a mutual target."

Pol Gen Krisna disclosed that there is an arrest warrant for one of 
their leaders who was based in Thailand before moving to Burma and 
Laos, where he continues trafficking.

"The Mekong is now a major smuggling route. We have to enhance our 
joint patrolling along some parts of the river. If we can co-operate 
with our counterparts we will succeed."

Home-Grown Problem

Concerning opium poppy cultivation in Thailand, Pol Gen Krisna said: 
"Cultivation in the North remains the same as last year, but we found 
out that some farmers were planning to plant more because the price 
of opium has increased, and they can make more money. This also 
applies in Myanmar and Laos. Cultivation there is also increasing."

According to ONCB statistics, the cultivation of opium poppies in 
Thailand decreased 27%, from 288 to 211 hectares, between 2008 and 
2009. In 2007 the area used for cultivation was 231 hectares. Figures 
for 2009/10 are not yet available.

"We have very good surveys from the air and from satellites. We can 
eradicate about 95% of opium poppies grown now with the help of the 
Border Patrol Police and the Royal Thai Army. They patrol along the 
border, in Mae Hong Song and Chiang Mai provinces. We will give them 
information on the targets and authorise them as narcotics officers 
who can arrest but not investigate.  They must hand the suspects over 
to the police who will follow up on each case."

Pol Gen Krisna added that opium cultivated in Thailand will be sent 
to heroin refineries in Wa territories and then smuggled abroad, 
mainly to China and Malaysia.

The general added that the Alternative Development Project _ to help 
farmers plant crops other than opium poppies _ has been very successful.

"We have similar projects in some parts of Myanmar because we want to 
help them. We try to enhance and to continue this project, but in 
recent years Myanmar has faced many problems, especially in the Wa, 
Kokang and Pa-O areas, which hamper these projects."

As to other incentives, the financial rewards available do not 
attract many informants since they are so small.  For example, for 
one gramme of cocaine or heroin the reward is only 20 baht _ while 
one gramme of either drug sells in Bangkok for more than 3,000 baht. 
The reward for ya ba depends on the purity and the quantity, and 
ranges from one to three baht per pill.  The street price ranges from 
300-450 baht per tablet.

Rehab Programmes

On the nation's drug treatment policy, Pol Gen Krisna stated: 
"Thailand considers drug addicts to be patients who need treatment 
and rehabilitation. At present, there are three treatment systems in 
Thailand that address the different needs of various groups of drug 
addicts and users, and there are voluntary, compulsory and 
correctional systems.

"We promote voluntary treatment, which is provided at hospitals and 
treatment centres throughout the country.  The voluntary treatment 
programmes are run by the Department of Medical Services, under the 
Ministry of Public Health.

"The compulsory system offers treatment for alleged offenders who are 
users or addicts. Any alleged offender on a charge of consumption, 
possession or sale of drugs must be brought to court within 48 hours 
of arrest, or 24 hours for those under18, for examination.  If they 
are found to be a drug user or addict, they must undergo 
rehabilitation until the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Sub-Committee 
approves their discharge.

"The initial programme lasts six months, but can be extended to three 
years with an evaluation every six months by the sub-committee, which 
comprises representatives from the Ministry of Justice, doctors, and 
so on. Drug users or addicts who have completed this treatment are 
released without charge.

"The correctional treatment system offers treatment for inmates who 
are drug addicts. The Department of Corrections, Ministry of Justice 
is responsible for the programme for inmates over 18, and the 
Department of Juvenile Protection and Observation is responsible for 
offenders under 18. For convicts over 18, treatment will be 
undertaken in a facility within a prison or detention centre.

"We have a target of up to 300,000 for treatment this year. We try to 
increase the numbers undergoing voluntary treatment over compulsory, 
which deals with up to 100,000 users or addicts."

Pol Gen Krisna emphasised that users and addicts should not be afraid 
to contact the ONCB, adding: "We are trying to give them more 
channels to contact us and obtain treatment conveniently where they 
live, not coming to a centre. We want community leaders to persuade 
them to receive treatment in their own area.

"I've just been talking to a private hospital and discovered that 
some high-society people are addicts and don't dare go to the normal 
treatment centres. They have money and they want more privacy where 
they are treated. I spoke to one private hospital that has a special 
clinic for these people to receive treatment.

"In the case of foreigners who are addicts, they can contact us, we 
will help them. We won't arrest them, we will try to find somewhere 
for them to be treated.

"It's voluntary, and they will have to pay for themselves, but it 
isn't expensive. They can contact us directly by phone _ the number is 1386."

Booming Business

Despite continuous efforts against the illicit drug trade on all 
fronts by government agencies and their foreign counterparts, the 
business is still increasing.  This is also a trend found in other 
Southeast Asian countries.

"We monitor the situation and make plans and policies for the 
committee which is chaired by the Prime Minister and comprises of _ 
among others _ the ministers of defence, education and public health, 
as well as the attorney-general and the commissioner-general of the 
Royal Thai Police," Pol Gen Krisna explained.

"The ONCB is affiliated with the Justice Ministry as an independent 
body, but our work is under the committee of the NCB," Gen Krisna said.

After talking to each other for some time, one would be astonished 
how sophisticated, well-organised and resourceful the drug people are 
not just in Thailand but worldwide.

"The government has always placed a priority on drug control as part 
of its national agenda, and declared a strong commitment to wiping 
out the illicit drug problem. The current government also considers 
drugs as one of the priority national problems," he said.

"In Thailand, we have 26 provinces with around 15,000 communities 
facing a serious drug epidemic. Realising that the drug problem is so 
serious, the government set up what it calls its Five Defensive Fence 
Strategy for the control of drugs, and these are: Border, Community, 
Family, School and Social.

"The Border Fence aims to strengthen drug law enforcement measures 
and arrest drug smugglers in the target border areas. The Community 
Fence emphasises reducing drug usage in target communities. The 
Family Fence focuses on helping families fight drugs and drug usage. 
The School Fence aims to strengthen efforts by schools and 
educational institutions to prevent drug usage. Finally, the Social 
Fence is aimed at creating integrated social orders and to eliminate 
all kinds of risk factors to built a stronger society."

Pol Gen Krisna then mentioned what he regards as the biggest problem. 
"We have found that young people are now more involved in drugs. 
Everything is changing.  They have more independence from their 
parents than in the past.

"They leave home to live alone, and move from the provinces to live 
in Bangkok and other cities without supervision from their parents, 
and do whatever they want, going to night clubs, discotheques and so 
on.  They start as addicts then become dealers because they need more money."

"For successes, we have the social fences and we need them to share 
more and more responsibility for their own people within their areas. 
It will need some time.  It is not easy to have it done within a 
short period of time.

As to how the public can assist the ONCB in its work, Pol Gen Krisna 
said: "We want the public to play a bigger role in the five fences, 
mainly in the community, social and school fences, to pay more 
attention and to get involved in activities in their areas. As for 
communities, we believe that if communities have more interest in 
their people and their areas, it will be beneficial.

"Why do we use the term 'Defensive Fence'? Because our main goals are 
to defend the country and the people from our enemy _ drugs," Pol Gen 
Krisna explained. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake