CHIANG RAI – Myanmar’s Drug Lords, uncertain about Myanmar’s New government’s policy on narcotics, have begun dumping their goods in large quantities across the Northern borders of Chiang Rai and Chiang Mai.
Worries of a potential crackdown in Myanmar have led to a huge influx of illicit drugs into Thailand in the first quarter of this year.
Massive amounts of drugs also have been stashed along the Thai-Myanmar border, ready to be smuggled into Thailand via the northern border provinces.
“Large quantities of speed pills have been produced and stashed on the Myanmar side of the border,” deputy national police chief Pol Gen Somyos Poompanmuang, who supervises a nationwide anti-drug suppression operation, said.
“The Pha Muang taskforce estimates there are about 500 million speed pills stored at the Myanmar border.”
Since the beginning of this year drugs police have arrested many suspects, including major traffickers, and seized millions of speed pills and sizeable amounts of crystal methamphetamine, or ya ice.
During the first quarter of this year authorities seized large hauls of illicit drugs in almost 40 cases, with several other smaller busts by local police.
The 40 major cases include the seizure of 1 million methamphetamine pills and 46 kilogrammes of ice in Chiang Rai province early in January, with a major drug suspect caught in the operation.
On that same day, police arrested two suspects and seized 890,000 speed pills and 1kg of ice in Ayutthaya.
On Jan 15, soldiers from the Pha Muang taskforce killed two suspects in a clash with a drug gang and seized 1.2 million speed pills in Chiang Rai’s Mae Fa Luang district.
On Jan 29, 900,000 speed pills and 5kg of ice were seized and four suspects caught at a restaurant in Chiang Rai’s Muang district.
On Feb 6, 1.4 million speed pills were seized and one suspect arrested in Lamphun province’s Li district.
Another 1.97 million speed pills and 20kg of ice were seized and a major drug suspect caught in a Valentine’s Day bust in Chiang Rai’s Mae Chan district.
The following day, about 970,000 speed pills were seized in Muang district of Lampang. About 1.94 million speed pills were seized later in the same province on Feb 24.
Then on March 20, 1 million speed pills and 30kg of ice were seized, with one suspect caught.
In the latest crackdown last Tuesday, police arrested 12 tribal drug suspects, seizing 120 bars of heroin weighing 42kg and 38kg of ice worth a total 600 million baht.
Pol Gen Somyos said drug networks opt to use tribal people instead of Thais to smuggle illicit drugs into the country, believing Thais are more likely to be police spies.
Experts from the Narcotics Suppression Bureau and the Office of the Narcotics Control Board say the influx of illicit drugs into the country has increased dramatically since October last year, resulting in the large number of drug case arrests.
From October last year until last Monday, a total of 186,050 drug cases were reported, resulting in the arrests of 194,601 drug suspects and the seizure of 59,033,492 speed pills, 959.30kg of ice, 118.74kg of heroin and 10,469.50kg of marijuana.
Authorities have also seized assets worth 677.39 million baht from 1,741 drug suspects.
Pol Gen Somyos said drug producers and traffickers are uncertain about the Myanmar government’s policy on drugs. Worried there might be a crackdown, they have accelerated the release of their goods in exchange for cash.
Pol Gen Somyos said there are two phases in drug trafficking. In the first phase, illicit drugs are smuggled and kept along northern border provinces of Thailand. This is called a “short-haul” transport of illicit drugs.
Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Phrae and Nan provinces are used as storage points for the drugs, he said.
In the second phase – “long-haul” smuggling – the goods from the northern border are smuggled to Bangkok or to the South before being smuggled to third countries via Malaysia.
He said Thailand’s improved intelligence-gathering has played a key role in many drug arrests.
Authorities plan to install large X-ray machines on two main roads in the northern route to detect narcotics hidden in trucks and large vehicles travelling from the North, Pol Gen Somyos said.
Traffickers are hastening the smuggling of drugs into Thailand before the machines are installed.
“After learning that Thailand will have road checkpoints with large X-rays, drug traffickers have rushed to smuggle illicit drugs quickly to avoid being arrested later,” said the deputy national police chief.
“This is rush hour for drug traffickers – we call this period ‘happy hour’ for their unlawful activities,” he said.