10% of Thai monks are addicts: expert

BANGKOK, Thailand, AP

Thai police seized 16,000 methamphetamine pills from a Buddhist temple in Bangkok Tuesday, a day after a religious expert estimated that 10 percent of the country’s monks are addicts.

Police Lt. Col. Supachai Phumee said resident monks had spotted a suspicious object in a pond at Rachatiwat temple in the capital and informed police, who found it was a sealed bin that contained the drugs.

It was not immediately clear who stashed the drugs in the temple in Khao San Road, a hotel district popular among budget travelers. Police are investigating, Supachai said.

On Monday, Manop Polparin, an expert with the government religious affairs department, told an Interior Ministry seminar that use of methamphetamines was widespread in monasteries.

Manop told the seminar that at least 10 percent of the more than 300,000 monks and novices nationwide were taking methamphetamines, the illegal stimulant known locally as “yaa baa” or “crazy drug.”

The Sangha Supreme Council, Thailand’s top Buddhist clerical body, declined comment.

“The council does not have knowledge or information about such report from the seminar,” a monk at the council office said on telephone. He refused to identify himself.

Manop said he based his estimate on figures of those seeking rehabilitation treatment for drug addiction. He noted that senior monks and religious officials weren’t facing up to the problem, for fear it could further shake confidence in Buddhism.

Ninety-five percent of Thais are Buddhists but the clergy’s reputation has been tarnished by a series of recent scandals. A few monks have been exposed for living the high life, sleeping with women, frequenting karaoke bars and suspicious business dealings. They are meant to be celibate and to refrain from material pleasures.

Kitti Limcaikit, secretary-general of the Office of the Narcotics Control Board, told the seminar that up to two million of Thailand’s 62 million people have been taking speed pills. Of these, about 300,000 were heavily addicted.

He anticipated that this year some 800 million methamphetamine pills would be smuggled into Thailand from neighboring Myanmar, also known as Burma.

Of these, 700 million would come from the United Wa State Army, a former rebel army that has reached a cease-fire with Myanmar military regime. The rest would originate from “other drug gangsters,” Kitti said, without elaborating.

Last year, the Wa army had smuggled some 500 million pills into Thailand. Thai authorities seized about 20 percent of these, he said.

Thailand accuses Myanmar of failing to rein in drug production by the Wa army, while Myanmar says it is being blamed unfairly for Thailand’s domestic drug problems. Myanmar alleges that Thai politicians are involved in the trade.

The new Thai government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has vowed to crack down on drug traffickers. Thailand regards the methamphetamine trade as the worst national security threat.