As drug trafficking revives, Thais back another harsh crackdown
In 2003, a violent government antidrug campaign resulted in more than 2,500 deaths.
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But the panel has no judicial powers and its findings have been overshadowed by the jockeying to form a new government.Skip to next paragraph
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That leaves Thaksin's allies free to restart an aggressive campaign, says Sunai Pasuk, a researcher for Human Rights Watch. "People need to be brought to court, not executed on the street as we saw under Thaksin…[PPP leaders] show no remorse towards what happened in 2003 and that's very scary," he says.
In Khlong Toey, home to some 135,000 residents, activists say the crackdown was a justifiable response. "If you think about the 2,000 or more people who died, you should compare that to the effect they had on the people who bought their drugs, which is a much larger number," he says.
A 2004 survey by the Asia Foundation found widespread acceptance for get-tough policies against drug dealers and human traffickers. An average of 67 percent of respondents said that extrajudicial killings were permissible in such cases.
Chartchai Suthiklom, a senior adviser to the Office of the Narcotics Control Bureau, said the controversy stirred by Thaksin shouldn't stop police from taking on traffickers. He warns that smuggling of meth into Thailand is on the rise after falling sharply between 2003-2006. "Aggressive and serious suppression doesn't mean killing people. We can use the law for suppression," Wanlop says.
Despite its domestic popularity, the 2003 campaign may have unwittingly contributed to worsening situations in neighboring countries. Tougher interdiction efforts along the Thai-Burma border forced smugglers to explore alternative overland routes into Thailand through Laos and Cambodia, as well sea routes via Malaysia.
"You could say that Thaksin's war on drugs was a disaster for these countries because the supply routes through the Golden Triangle now go through Laos and Cambodia and to Malaysia. These countries began as transit routes; now they've become consumers," says Jeremy Douglas, a regional coordinator for the UN Office on Drugs and Crime in Bangkok.
That matters little to Nittaya Phrompochuanboon, a social worker at an educational foundation in Khlong Toey. At night, she joins volunteers who patrol, keeping an eye out for drug dealers. But their anonymous tip-offs to the local police rarely lead to arrests.
"How can the police not know who the traffickers are, when the neighbors see that they're selling drugs?" she asks.