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Safe Mekong Joint Operation Should Take the War to Drug Czars



Chiang Rai Times
Chiang Rai Times

Thai Marine Border Police patrolling along the Mekong river,


CHIANG RAI –  Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya has officially kicked off another stage of the Safe Mekong Joint Operation. Thailand and three neighbors sharing the river will step up operations against both makers and smugglers in the Mekong corridor.

The latest renewal of the battle against illicit drugs is both welcome and lamentably incomplete the Bangkok Post reports.

Authorities have also launched campaigns to stifle the rampant drug-dealing from within prisons. As usual, promises to help the victims of drug trafficking are left behind.

A Narcotics Control Board officer demonstrates how information on the Mekong River is tracked after the opening of the Safe Mekong Coordination Centre in Chiang Mai on Thursday. (Photo by Tawatchai Kemgumnerd)

A Narcotics Control Board officer demonstrates how information on the Mekong River is tracked after the opening of the Safe Mekong Coordination Center


A two-part anti-trafficking campaign began yesterday, from two directions. Gen Paiboon and allies Myanmar, Laos and China kicked off stage two of their Mekong-area crackdown.

The minister has been unable to provide any figures, but claims the first, three-month stage “yielded results”. The aim is to stop the smugglers from crossing or using the mighty Mekong to move drugs from factories in Myanmar and Laos to markets in Thailand and China.

The goal of the current, second stage of the campaign is to stem and eventually halt the flow of chemical precursors needed to make drugs. For example, illicit drug chemists use ephedrine and pseudoephedrine to manufacture methamphetamine’s, or ya ba. Ascetic acid is a common precursor in the making of heroin. Gen Paiboon is to approach Vietnam, South Korea, India and Cambodia to ask for better export controls.

The justice minister and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board secretary-general Permpong Chaovalit will try again to shut down prison-based drug traffickers. This is chiefly a matter of corruption, with prison authorities at the heart of the problem. Tighter prison controls will be attempted once again.

What is missing is clear enough. Every new government for the past 20 years has promised what the Narcotics Control Office formerly called a “holistic approach” to the drug abuse problem. Each new prime minister, civilian and military, has publicly renewed the promise to address the very real problem of drug abusers. Each new premier, whether elected, selected or self-appointed, has repeated the determination to deal humanely with both traffickers and their victims. And now, as usual, full attention has been given to the attempt to stamp out drug abuse by stamping out drug dealers.

Yet two truths must be clear to all by now. The first is that filling prisons and then building more for street peddlers is a failed policy. The men and women at the top of this chain have the cash and connections to ensure that drug peddling continues. As one petty dealer is removed to prison — or, during the dark Thaksin days, killed — another takes his or her place. Fighting the “ant army” of small-time drug dealers will fail.

Street-corner dealers are usually drug abusers, anyhow. Rather than feed the treadmills into useless prison cells, authorities must take a more proactive and useful approach. Providing understanding and opportunity — training and a chance for employment, for example — will not only take street dealers off the corners but will do so permanently.

Helping abusers is no universal medicine for the drug trafficking illness that afflicts the country. Putting the pressure on the big makers, smugglers and organizers of the drug trade is a necessary policy. It is time to hold the feet of the Myanmar government to the fire of international opinion.

It has curiously failed to take any steps to attack, destroy and close drug factories in the country. It also has failed to cooperate in finding, arresting and deporting foreign kingpins, who effectively live in Myanmar in safety.

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