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Six Mekong Countries to Intensify “Safe Mekong Initiative” as Drug Production Increases

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CHIANG RAI – The Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) secretary-general Niyom Termsrisuk announced yesterday that a heightened cooperation between six countries as part of the anti-drug Safe Mekong initiative has contributed to the interception of large drug hauls entering Thailand from neighboring Mekong countries.

Mr Niyom, who was promoted to the post of ONCB chief at the beginning of last month, came to the job during an important period when a five-year action plan for the Safe Mekong initiative, which would be implemented from next year, is being formulated.

Six countries that have joined the initiative are Cambodia, Laos, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

Mr Niyom stressed the exchange of intelligence between the countries played a part in seizing drugs that have been smuggled into the country.

Niyom Termsrisuk took over as head of the prime minister’s Office of Narcotics Control Board on Oct 1, 2018

He said information sharing led officers to determine areas where the drugs were expected to be shifted across border into the country.

The cooperation is also instrumental in hindering the smuggling of drug precursors across borders.

The information sharing, he said, also sheds light on people associated with drug syndicates and leads drugs authorities in each country to bring fleeing drug suspects to justice. This benefits the manhunt of those people, Mr Niyom said.

“Over the past three years, our ways to address [drug] problems are clear in various aspects, particularly joint action plans with neighbouring countries to intercept chemicals and precursors [used to make drugs] in risk areas,” Mr Niyom said.

Officers also exchanged information about Thai drug suspects holed up in Myanmar as well as producers and chemists involved with drug production, he said.

“This resulted in more busts of chemicals, speed pills [ya ba], crystal meth [ya ice] and marijuana as well as targeted individuals,” Mr Niyom said.

According to him, intelligence sharing among the six countries and a series of crackdowns on major drug syndicates does not only highlight trust between the members but also shows the international community that the group is united in its bid to tackle drug problems in the region.

It shows that this group of countries has played an active role in dealing with the problem, which could help allay accusations by the international community that the region causes the spread of the drugs.

Thai Marine Border Police patrol the Mekong river near Chiang Saen in northern Chiang Rai province.

He said the Golden Triangle, where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet, is still seen by the international community as the source of drug production.

“We try to exert greater leverage for negotiation. Mekong river basin countries have united in seriously addressing the problem,” Mr Niyom said.

According to the secretary-general, it is also important to acknowledge that the spread of drugs is also caused by drug users.

The enforcement of the laws to deal with drug traffickers remains important but a move to take drug users to undergo rehabilitation is also necessary, he said.

“It is not enough to deal with drug suppression alone. The drug problem in relation to users must also be addressed,” Mr Niyom said.

He said Myanmar border areas of Thachilek and Nong Ta Yang that are adjacent to Thailand’s Chiang Rai in the North were frequently used by drug smugglers to transport drugs across the border into Thailand, adding Myanmar authorities are now working with Thai counterparts to deal with the problems.

Police and navy officers display packages containing 200,000 speed pills seized following a shootout with suspected drug traffickers near the Mekong River in Chiang Rai Province.

However, Myanmar authorities still face trouble with reaching out to some areas controlled by armed ethnic minorities, he said, giving an example of Shan State, which is seen to be a source of drug production and is next to the northern region of Thailand.

Referring to anti-drug cooperation from Laos, he said the land-locked country has deployed 800 personnel to patrol their border areas in Bo Kaew and Bolikhamxai provinces, which are believed to be the key locations where drugs are smuggled across the border.

He said the drug problem does not lie in only ya ba, ya ice and cannabis, but also chemicals and drug precursors smuggled from China and India. “We have to figure out how to prevent them from being shifted to Chiang Rai’s Golden Triangle,” Mr Niyom said.

He said Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son and Phayao are Thailand’s northern provinces prone to drug smuggling and the situation remains critical.

Police and ONCB officers arrest suspects who were attempting to deliver the drugs from Chiang Rai to Bangkok using their two private cars.

The ONCB found that drugs are shifted across the border and planted in 47 villages in those provinces first before being transported to upper northeastern provinces — Loei, Nakhon Phanom and Nong Khai — as well as other areas.

“The information that we have obtained makes it possible to map out strategies for drug prevention and suppression in the country as well as those that serve Safe Mekong initiative in targeted areas,” Mr Nikom said.

The ONCB is now working with security officers and army regions to formulate plans to tackle drug smuggling, he said.

Asked if he is worried about how to deal with drug problems, Mr Niyom conceded the issue had significantly concerned him because it has not yet been put under control.

However, several countries are paying attention to the drug problem and standing ready to support Thai authorities by sending experts to help as well as sharing in-depth information and equipment necessary for related tasks.

“The [drug] problem has a broad impact on countries around the globe, not only particular nations,” Mr Niyom said.

Mr Niyom started his career at the ONCB as an investigator and later became a policy and planning analyst at the policy and planning office.

In 2007, he was transferred to work as a special case investigator at the Department of Special Investigation (DSI). A year later, he was promoted as an investigator in the senior professional level.

In 2010, he was made a policy and planning analyst at the ONCB’s Bangkok Area Narcotics Control Office and became the chief of the office in October that year.

He was later made the director of the Drug Demand Reduction Bureau before being promoted to serve as deputy secretary-general of the ONCB in 2016 and narcotic control adviser for the agency this year.

By King-oua Laohong
Bangkok Post