Thai leader vows to step up drugs ‘war’

CHIANG RAI, Thailand, AP

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on Sunday announced that he will count on popular participation as part of a new three-part strategy to tackle Thailand’s biggest social problem: drug trafficking and addiction.

In addition to the plan, Thaksin said he will open talks on the issue with neighboring Myanmar, which Thailand says is the source of massive amounts of the illegal stimulant methamphetamine.

Thaksin spoke at a news conference at the conclusion of a one-and-a-half day meeting with senior security officials to come up with new anti-drug strategies.

In a speech opening the meeting Saturday, he described the drug menace as “like a cancer that will further spread and destroy the whole body,” and said the authorities’ mission was a “war.” He said that 6-7 percent of Thailand’s 61 million people are addicted to drugs.

The three-pronged strategy unveiled Sunday involved having all anti-drug work coordinated under a single chief, Thaksin himself. It also called for adjusting the units involved to respond more efficiently to problems, improving drug laws to be more fair to addicts and tougher on sellers, and speeding up the justice system.

Thaksin said the government would launch a “people’s power” project to get popular participation in the anti drugs campaign all the way down to the village level.

He also said Thailand would open talks with Myanmar to solve border conflicts and the drug issues.

The presence of Myanmar ethnic rebels along the border with Thailand has long caused strains between the two countries. The two countries’ troops clashed last month after Myanmar soldiers crossed into Thai territory to attack an ethnic rebel group.

But the alleged trafficking of methamphetamine from Myanmar, also known as Burma, has caused an even greater strain in relations, because the methamphetamine problem has become so big that Thai officials consider it a threat to national security

Thai and other drug experts say Myanmar’s military government turns a blind eye to drug production and trafficking as a way of ensuring peace among ethnic minority groups, who have been restive for decades.

“We will open talks with Myanmar to get solutions to the border and drug conflicts,” Thaksin said Sunday. “The conflict along the border should not last that long but relations concerning drugs will take some more time. We need decisiveness and determination from Myanmar.”

Myanmar officials have not yet commented on Thaksin’s plans.

The meeting was held under tight security in Chiang Rai, 680 kilometers (422 miles) north of Bangkok, in the Golden Triangle region where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet.

The Golden Triangle is historically a center for production and trafficking of opium and its derivative heroin, but in recent years has become a major source of methamphetamine, which is relatively cheap and easy to make.