CHIANG RAI – Drug Suppression authorities and soldiers of the 3rd army have eradicated more than 1,600 rai of opium poppy farmlands in the North of Thailand over the past year, but recently discovered three major drug manufacturing hubs just a stone’s throw away from the Thai border in Myanmar, posing major challenges in the ongoing fight against the illicit substance trade.
In a press conference Lt Gen Preecha Chan-ocha, the 3rd Army Region commander, said army personnel had raided and eradicated 21 opium farms covering a total of 1,613 rai of land in Chiang Rai, Mae Hong Son, Tak, Kamphaeng Phet, Lampang and Nan provinces, as a result of tip-offs from the Narcotic Crops Survey and Monitoring Institute.
A further 46 rai of opium farmlands were also discovered and destroyed in the same period – 19 rai by the Border Patrol Police Bureau Region 3 and 27 rai by the Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB).
But despite progress made over the past year, attempts to cultivate opium are likely to increase, Lt Gen Preecha said, because raw opium prices are still relatively high and the use of illicit drugs remains rampant.
He said drug lords and criminals in the opium production trade were also developing new ways of cultivating crops to escape detection. For example, they are opting to grow opium poppies in harder-to-access locations along the country’s borders, using farm sprinkler irrigation systems and pesticides, and cultivating multiple types of opium in one plot.
“They plant them in furrows, the same way as vegetable gardens. This makes it difficult for authorities [to identify] when conducting aerial inspections,” Lt Gen Preecha said.
Whether opium yields are high or low depends on two main factors – humidity levels, which determine how well the crops do, and the intensity of eradication operations carried out by state agencies, he added.
Lt Gen Preecha meanwhile said the supply of illicit drugs, particularly methamphetamine pills, continues to be a critical problem for the country.
Lt Gen Preecha also said intelligence reports indicate that there are as many as 11 drug production bases just across the Thai border in neighbouring countries that have a large capacity and are manufacturing drugs on a daily basis.
The drugs produced by these factories are contributing to a continued influx of speed pills into Thailand, he said.
Among the 11 drug bases, authorities found three in Myanmar – all located within a 30-kilometer radius of the Thai border. The nearest one, thought to be a large meth and heroin production hub, is about 13 kilometres from Mae Hong Son’s Pang Ma Pha district. The place is allegedly controlled by Wa tribespeople.
The other two drug hubs include one allegedly operated by Muser tribespeople 20 kilometres from Chiang Rai’s Mae Fa Luang district, and another said to be controlled by Wa tribespeople, 30 kilometres from Mai Sai district in the same province.