A drug trafficking suspect was killed on Wednesday in a gunfight between uniformed government forces led by Marine Police and drug trafficking suspects on the Mekong River in Thailand’s northern province of Chiang Rai, with the authorities confiscating 900,000 methamphetamine pills found on two Chinese-owned river boats, according to authorities.
The body of an unidentified man, believed to be part of the syndicate, was found on a river cargo carrier after the shooting between government forces and an estimated 10 men on two Chinese-owned cargo ships in Chiang Saen district.
The Thai government personnel were on river patrol when they saw the two Chinese cargo boats heading to Chiang Saen port from the Golden Triangle.
Marine Police signalled the two vessels to stop to be searched, but the boats did not stop, and an estimated 10 men on board the vessels opened fire on the authorities.
After the 10-minute gunfight, one man was found dead and the government personnel confiscated 900,000 methamphetamine pills in five sacks.
However, the men on board the two vessels, presumed to be related to the drug syndicate, fled the scene.
The combined forces included Thai Navy sailors, Chiang Rai provincial security personnel, Chiang Saen-based Marine Police and Army Rangers
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung has vowed to reduce the influx of illicit drugs coming across the border by at least 60% a year.
To stem the flow of narcotics, northern border areas in Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son provinces must be sealed to stop the drugs from getting in, Mr Chalerm, who oversees national security, said in an exclusive interview with the Bangkok Post.
Currently, there are some 100 border checkpoints in Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai, he said. The number of checkpoints in this northern border district will be increased to 200 in a bid to block drugs from entering the country, he said. Information from all the state agencies will be integrated to reduce the influx of drugs.
“We will not focus on suppression, but on blocking drug shipments. If we can cut the supply, then the demand for drugs will fall,” he said.
He expressed confidence his strategy would reduce the smuggling of drugs into the country. He has instructed police nationwide to raid locations suspected of storing drugs for sale or distribution.
“I’m sure measures being taken will please the public and I have set a target to reduce the influx of drugs by 80% or at least 60% a year,” Mr Chalerm said.
At least 300,000 drug addicts would be sent to undergo treatment, he added.
Strict measures will be taken to control the possession of precursors _ or chemicals used to produce drugs. Those precursors would be put on a list of registered drugs, he said.
Even anti-cold medicines, which contain ingredients used for producing illicit drugs, would only be sold by hospitals.
He recently met the governors of eight provinces and senior police from all regions to discuss the drug problem. The meetings agreed the problem could not be solved without cooperation from the public. Rogue police also posed an obstacle in the fight against illicit drugs, he said.
In light of the problem, he has introduced a policy to promote senior police sergeant majors who are 53 years old this year to be commissioned officers. The promotions will be aimed at boosting the morale of non-commissioned officers and discouraging them from getting involved in drug trafficking.
Also, the Government Savings Bank has been contacted to provide low-interest loans to low-ranking police officers, said Mr Chalerm.
He said the volume of illegal drugs smuggled into the country had fallen sharply after a month-long drug suppression drive under his supervision. In Chiang Mai, for example, police have arrested a number of suspects and seized assets worth 100 million baht, he said.
He said that local politicians had been involved in the drug trade, but insisted that no national-level politicians were involved.
He claimed to have obtained a list of 1,000 government officials involved in the drug trade. Officials found to be mixed up in the drug trade face harsh punishment and will have their assets seized, he said.