- The Washington Times - Friday, February 21, 2003

BANGKOK Hundreds of bullet-riddled corpses have been found across Thailand, and news photos show the victims often surrounded by horrified neighbors and grinning police.
"We have done nothing wrong," declared Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, defending his new campaign to drive out illegal drugs from this troubled Buddhist kingdom within three months.
"We can explain everything. Nothing has to be changed. Nothing has been done to damage Thailand's image," said Mr. Thaksin, 53, a former police officer who received a doctorate degree in criminal justice at Sam Houston State University in Texas.
The dead are described as drug dealers shot while resisting arrest or, more often, silenced by other traffickers who fear that competitors and underlings will become informants as the noose tightens.
The clothed bodies are often found slumped face down in rural sites or on urban streets, in a puddle of blood congealing in the tropical winter heat. Police arrive, occasionally taking photos or posing for TV reporters next to the bodies while lecturing bystanders about the danger of drugs.
Undertakers hurriedly wrap the corpses in white sheets, dump them in vehicles and haul them away.
One police station piled a dozen "donated" coffins in front of the building to symbolize what could happen to anyone who manufactures, smuggles, sells or uses illegal drugs.
"Strangely enough, the drug suspects in two [Bangkok] communities are mostly housewives," police Sgt. Anant Prasongchai said.
[The government threatened yesterday to fire officials if they fail to step up the anti-drug crusade that has claimed more than 300 lives this month alone.
[Interior Minister Wan Muhamad Noor Matha told governors and senior civil servants in 23 provinces that had fallen behind government targets to detain by the end of the month at least 25 percent of trafficking suspects named on a government list. The nationwide list contains 46,000 names.
["If I find provincial governors who can't meet the government target, I will send someone else to replace them," Mr. Wan Muhamad told reporters in Bangkok yesterday. "We are fighting in a war and we have to fight hard to win it."
[According to the latest police data, security forces arrested more than 15,000 suspects, seized 6 million methamphetamine pills and 182 million baht ($4.23 million) worth of assets in the first two weeks.
[Police say they killed just 15 of the 319 suspects who died this month, attributing the other deaths to warfare between gangs. Surveys show that about 80 percent of Thais are happy with the anti-drug operation.]
Thai human rights activists want the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the rising slaughter.
"In Thailand, we have seen people lined up against the wall and shot without trial in the 1950s. And during the communist insurgency, suspects were kicked off helicopters or burnt in oil drums," the Bangkok Post reminded people in an editorial last Friday.
This time around, it is difficult to believe police claims that most of the dead were drug dealers suddenly killed by other dealers because "Thailand has never seen such highly organized gangland executions," the editorial concluded.
"It's rather obvious that police in many areas, under pressure from their superiors to 'perform,' have resorted to extrajudicial killings to show results," said Thepchai Yong, editor of the Nation newspaper group.
Opposition politicians also lashed out at the killings.
"Only a court can order the execution of people," said former Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai.
"Shooting someone merely because they are suspected of selling drugs or associating with traffickers will create problems. We could be accused of human rights violations and the international community could boycott us," Mr. Chuan said.
But Mr. Thaksin, a strong U.S. ally, shrugged off any possibility of U.N. condemnation.
"To boycott us, they need to vote," he said, suggesting that he perhaps is relying on divisions within the United Nations on other issues.
The government announced Feb. 1, as part of the three-month campaign, that anyone, including officials, involved in drug dealing could face execution.
Police in this Southeast Asian nation, however, have a poor reputation, making it hard for them to appear responsible during the crackdown.
"In addition to complaints of extrajudicial killings, the [human rights] commission gets many complaints about police beatings and torture each year," said Jaran Dithapichai, a human rights official monitoring the drug-related complaints.
The war on drugs began with gruesome warnings from several officials, sparking admiration from those who favor a tough approach, but outraging others who perceived a death-squad mentality.
"Tell [the dealers] to stop selling drugs and leave the communities for good or they will be put behind bars or even vanish without a trace," Mr. Wan Muhamad said publicly.
"In our war on drugs, the district chiefs are the knights, and provincial governors are the commanders. If the knights see the enemies, but do not shoot them, they can be beheaded by their commanders," he added.
"A normal person lives for 80 years, but a bad person should not live that long," declared Pichai Sunthornsajjabun, a regional police commander.
The campaign is aimed mostly at highly addictive methamphetamines, which have eclipsed heroin as the country's No. 1 drug problem.
Thailand is "a consuming and a major transit country" for methamphetamines and heroin, according to the U.S. State Department.
Guerrillas in neighboring Burma are blamed for producing most of the "speed" and "smack" smuggled into Thailand for local consumption or shipment abroad.
The Burmese military junta complains that the chemicals to make methamphetamines such as the stimulant ephedrine are imported into Burma via Thailand, China and other countries.
Several years ago, the Thai government dubbed methamphetamines "ya ba," or crazy drug, to stress its potential in causing mental derangement. Earlier called "ya ma," or horse drug, it enables construction workers, truck drivers and others to labor for long hours.
The extended lack of sleep, however, can cause hallucinations, depression, paranoia, violence, and, of course, accidents.
During the past decade, consumption of speed among middle- and upper-class Thai youths has been rising. Teachers, parents and Buddhist priests are becoming increasingly concerned by students who prostitute themselves or become campus-based dealers for quick cash to feed their habits.
Stung by criticism of the new campaign's bloody results, some officials tried to mollify worried citizens.
"We do not want them dead. Everything we do is legal," said Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh.
"We have no extrajudicial-killing policy, but we will kill those who resist arrest," National Police Chief Sant Sarutanont explained.
"Major drug dealers usually fight because they are afraid of arrest and harsh punishment," Chief Sant said.
Under Thai law, drug trafficking can bring a death sentence, and some people have been executed. Most punishment, however, involves lengthy confinement in squalid prisons.
The latest crackdown coincides with an announcement by Bau Yuxiang a guerrilla leader of the Burma-based Wa tribe who has "promised to make the Wa areas drug-free by 2005, and I will."
Thailand and the United States insist his 20,000 heavily armed guerrillas, known as the United Wa State Army, dominate most of the methamphetamine and heroin production in northern Burma.
The Wa reportedly tax heroin and other drugs to finance their control of mountainous parts of northern Burma. Thailand and Burma frequently exchange deadly gunfire along their rugged jungle border while containing rival, Burma-based guerrillas groups.
The two nations also have tried to negotiate a peaceful solution to the drug problem and the instability along the frontier. Burma produced about 800 million methamphetamine tablets in 2001 and a similar amount last year, officials said.
Burma's drugs flow across all its borders into Bangladesh, India, China, Laos and Thailand.
Smugglers also ship south through Burma's ports and across the Andaman Sea to Thailand's lengthy southwest coast.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) works closely with Thailand's government, police and military.
"Our DEA agents work side by side with their Thai counterparts, and U.S. special forces train with Thai soldiers in Thailand in counterinsurgency and border-security techniques," James A. Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told the Asia Foundation in March.
The State Department's latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report praised Bangkok's "close cooperation" with Washington.
The United States trained Thailand's Task Force 399 a joint army and border-police unit to thwart smuggling along the northwest border with Burma.
"It is supported by an interagency intelligence fusion center established at Chiang Mai [city] with U.S. government assistance and support," the department said.

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