CHIANGRAI TIMES – Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said the ruling Pheu Thai Party aims to turn 400,000 of the country’s 1.2 million drug addicts into decent citizens through rehabilitation.
The government has kicked off its anti-drugs push with a pledge to get tough on dealers and traffickers, but to help rehabilitate, rather than punish, addicts so they may later re-enter society.
However, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who has been appointed head of the suppression centre, declared officials will get tough with drug traffickers and dealers during the one-year operation.
Police forces have been mobilised to border routes in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son provinces to prevent drugs from being smuggled into the country, said acting national police chief Priewpan Damapong.
Prime Minister Yingluck said her government would treat drug addicts as patients so these people can later return to society.
Most drug addicts are aged between 16 and 24 years old and these young people are regarded as a resource of the nation.
“As a mother, I do not want to see children fall victim to drugs,” she said.
The new suppression campaign will be supervised by the new drugs command centre headed by Mr Chalerm, she said.
Apart from law enforcement operations against traffickers and dealers, key elements of the new campaign will include the rehabilitation of addicts, the promotion of community empowerment and safeguarding young people from drug addiction.
Neighbouring countries will be asked to cooperate in stopping drug shipments from crossing the border.
The campaign was in response to Her Majesty the Queen’s call for government action against drugs on her birthday on Aug 12, Ms Yingluck said.
Mr Chalerm told reporters his centre will focus its work on trying to block drug shipments crossing the northern border, where 70% of the illicit drugs are smuggled into the country.
Neighbouring countries will be asked to support the campaign, and if they refuse to cooperate, Thailand will complain internationally, he said.
The authorities will take tough measures against drug dealers and any officials who take bribes to turn a blind eye to the trade.
Drug traffickers and dealers will have their assets seized. They will also be placed under stricter control during their detention to prevent them from continuing their business, typically through the use of mobile phones smuggled into prison.
The defence and the justice ministers will be asked to help find accommodations in military barracks or in prisons for drug addicts undergoing rehabilitation programmes, said Mr Chalerm.
Pol Gen Priewpan has sent special police teams to the northern border areas and they will be asked to report the results of their drug suppression efforts in four months.
The Royal Thai Police Office will make sure these special police teams will be sufficiently supplied with weapons, vehicles and a budget, he said.
Meanwhile, Wasant Panich, a former national human rights commissioner who investigated alleged human rights violations in the 2003 “war on drugs” spearheaded by then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, said he hoped this operation would be carried out with greater adherence to the rule of law and justice.
“We do not want to see a recurrence of the Thaksin war on drugs, which tok the lives of 2,600 people suspected of being involved in narcotics,” he said.
“There must be no torture or extrajudicial killings of suspects.
“If killings are unavoidable in the course of the operation, the Justice Ministry’s Central Institute of Forensic Science should be permitted to investigate the cases, instead of the police, to ensure justice for the dead.”
Mr Wasant said searches of homes carried out under the drug operation should only be done with court approval and charges against suspects must only be pressed when there is strong evidence.
He encouraged any people who feel wronged by the campaign to lodge their complaints with state agencies.
Drug gangs will also have their finances targetted, in a new strategy adopted by Provincial Police Region 1.
This is part of an intensified campaign by the police region to rid their areas of drug crime.
Khamronwit Thupkrachang, who was appointed Provincial Police Region 1 commander a month ago, said anti-money laundering efforts will complement anti-drugs and criminal laws in his battle against drug rings in Ayutthaya and the upper central region.
“The drug problem in this region is particularly rampant because this is where most drugs from the North are stored temporarily before being smuggled into Bangkok,” said Pol Maj Gen Khamronwit.
Police say two notorious brothers, the late Charnchai “Joke” and Noppon “Jib” Paikiew, were members of a major drug gang in Ayutthaya.
The pair were accused of involvement in a drive-by shooting in Ayutthaya on Dec 4 last year which led to the death of 12-year-old Phokin “Nong Tomee” Deephiu.
Police shot Charnchai dead in a raid at his Bang Pa-in apartment on Dec 11. Mr Noppon fled from the raid but was found and arrested a few days later. Pol Maj Gen Khamronwit said all 140 police stations under his supervision would dig deeper into every drug case.
They would be required to report drug-related arrests every five days and the heads of drug suppression teams would be required to explain in person if any of them failed to submit reports.
Stations would follow up the reports, as tips from arrested drug suspects could lead investigators to bigger players.
Pol Maj Gen Khamronwit said the key to catching big-time drug dealers is to target their finance networks.
He has assigned Uthen Nunphin, a deputy chief of subdivision 3 of the Provincial Police Region 1’s Investigation Centre, to lead a study into enforcing drugs laws along with money laundering laws.
Pol Lt Col Uthen is working with the Anti-Money Laundering Office to improve the police’s drug suppression operations with the help of anti-money laundering laws.
He believes previous failures to combine investigations into suspected drug traffickers, with probes into how they were laundering the proceeds of their crimes, has held back the fight against drug crime.
“From now on, every drug suspect, whether a buyer or seller, will face a second blow after his or her arrest,” said Pol Lt Col Uthen.
As well as being arrested on drug charges, they could also have their assets seized, he said. Investigators would track the illegal assets of the suspects and have them seized.
“We will make sure that they will not have any money left, even to support a bail request,” Pol Lt Col Uthen said.
Anyone who put up bail for a drug suspect will also face an anti-money laundering investigation as part of the same probe into the suspect’s assets.
If suspects could not prove where their money or assets had come from, police would have good reason to suspect they had been acquired illegally and they would have to be frozen pending further investigation.
“Some drug suspects save their money in others’ bank accounts, or buy houses, cars and properties in others’ names,” said Pol Lt Col Uthen.
“But now we can track them with the help of the anti-money laundering law, which will make life harder for them and could help keep our streets free of drugs and influence.”