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Myanmars Drug Trade Creates Dealers in High Places

According to the United Nations, Burma is the second largest opium producing country in the world after Afghanistan

CHIANGRAI TIMES – With the staggering amounts of money to be made it should not surprise anyone if some people who are supposed to on the side of drug suppression are in fact involved in feeding the drug trade, both in Myanmar and Thailand.

Recent weeks have seen some major drug busts in the Kingdom, the largest when police raided a house in Pathum Thani at the end of January and found almost four million methamphetamine pills and 71kg of crystal methamphetamine, or ”ice”. It is no secret that for many years most of the drugs entering Thailand have come from Myanmar, and a report in this week’s Spectrum provides compelling evidence that in the last couple of year’s drug production has significantly increased. In the Spectrum report, Professor Des Ball of Australia’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, who has researched Myanmar’s drugs trade for many years, says that ethnic ceasefire groups are in control of production and trafficking of drugs, and strongly implies it is with the government’s knowledge. This is not a new accusation by any means, and common sense says for the trade to thrive as it has, at the very least there must be some people in high places turning a blind eye to it.

Unfortunately it appears that this may also be the case in Thailand. The drugs seized in Pathum Thani were traced to Niphon Kanchat, who revealed to interrogators that his trafficking operation depended on the cooperation of Maj Piyanat Ketchamras of the engineer battalion of the Third Army at Phitsanulok. Mr Niphon told police that Maj Piyanat worked as a courier and was paid one million baht to take drugs from Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district to Ayutthaya or Pathum Thani, where Mr Niphon waited to pick up the shipments. The army quickly gave up Maj Piyanat, who is now in custody and presumably will have his day in court, as will Mr Niphon, who police believe was working for the drug network once run by the late drug warlord Khun Sa in Thailand’s northern border areas.

Myanmar's Prime Minister General Thein Sein examines packs of narcotic drugs

Many will remember another mysterious case last October involving military personnel and a large quantity of drugs.

Nine Thai soldiers of the Pa Muang Task Force, which patrols Thai portions of the Mekong River, were detained in the deaths of the of 13 crew members on two Chinese-flagged cargo boats. It was reported that 920,000 ya ba pills were found on the two boats.

Perhaps both of these were isolated incidents, but considering the quantities of drugs involved it is fair to ask if others within the military or other state agencies may have been involved and how far up the chain of command it might go. Both military and civil investigations should be conducted with the results made public quickly.

Regarding the incident on the Mekong, soon afterward sources within the government insisted that the soldiers were innocent. The investigation is presumably continuing but there have been no recent updates, although there are reports that Shan drug kingpin Nor Kham was somehow involved.

With the staggering amounts of money to be made it should not surprise anyone if some people who are supposed to on the side of drug suppression are in fact involved in feeding the drug trade, both in Myanmar and Thailand. This should be a primary focus of the Pheu Thai government’s new anti-drug campaign, which obviously would require the cooperation of the Myanmar government.

But again, considering the staggering amounts of money to be made, as long as there is such a demand for illicit drugs it will almost certainly be met in one way or another; if one network is removed, another will form. The best way to reduce the demand is through education and rehabilitation. No matter how tough the police crackdown is, for every drug user or mid-level pusher who is arrested dozens more will still be on the streets.

As it is now most young offenders are remanded to boot camp-style facilities where the emphasis is on discipline, exercise and some counselling. There have been few reports of inmates being abused, and as long as the detainees are given the due process of the law and the length of stay is not excessive these facilities may be a good first step in getting addicts off drugs.

But what happens when they are back in their old environments? This is another area the government must focus on. There must be more emphasis on follow-up counselling and support for recovering addicts who wish to kick the habit. In this regard recovering addicts can be invaluable as they can identify with young people who take drugs or are contemplating taking that step. In some cases they should be given training and paid positions as counsellors at community centres as well as middle and high schools.

Bangkok Post EDITORIAL

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