Shal­low graves in Thai­land’s drug ware­house

Mizzima Business Weekly - - CONTENTS -

Stuck on a merry-go-round of drug tak­ing, deal­ing and jail, Som­phal Boon­sanoon's jour­ney through ad­dic­tion ended in a shal­low grave in Ayut­thaya, Thai­land's his­toric heart and South­east Asia's meth ware­house. His curse from his teens was 'yaba', the small metham­phetamine pills cut with caf­feine that Thais call crazy medicine.The tablets are flood­ing the king­dom at record rates, along with a high pu­rity and more ad­dic­tive crys­tal ver­sion called 'ice', as drug lords in neigh­bour­ing Myan­mar churn out huge amounts into the re­gion. But while the pro­duc­ers and push­ers get rich, Thai com­mu­ni­ties are with­er­ing un­der an ad­dic­tion cri­sis. Som­phal was just 39 when he was shot dead along­side two other ad­dicts after steal­ing 2,000 pills from a pair of lo­cal deal­ers. Their bod­ies were dumped on a muddy canal bank, left to bloat in the Au­gust sun -- a pu­trid feast for the mon­i­tor lizards that pa­trol the paddy fields of cen­tral Thai­land. All five men in­volved used yaba or ice. All came from in and around Maha Rat, a farm­ing dis­trict in Ayut­thaya prov­ince.

"He was a de­cent per­son, he wasn't bru­tal," one of Som­phal's rel­a­tives told AFP, re­quest­ing anonymity fear­ing reprisals from the drug gangs that rid­dle the area. "But he had a weak point... drugs. He just couldn't stop." An hour out­side Bangkok's sprawl, Ayut­thaya is the "cross­roads" of the re­gional drug trade that cas­cades Myan­mar-made nar­cotics across South­east Asia and be­yond, ac­cord­ing to Po­lice Ma­jor-Gen­eral Wut­tipong Petchgum­n­eard of Thai­land's Nar­cotics Sup­pres­sion Bureau. The cen­tral prov­ince con­nects the north­ern and south­ern drug routes by road, while its war­ren of fac­to­ries -- and work­ers -- pro­vide ready stash houses and couri­ers for the drug gangs. "Most drugs go­ing to Bangkok or over­seas are stored there for pick up by the deal­ers," he said. Nearly ev­ery night ve­hi­cles packed tight with parcels of gear hus­tle from the north through Ayut­thaya hop­ing to avoid po­lice road­blocks. Some­times the law gets lucky. More of­ten the drug con­voys slip through. "Th­ese are in­ter­na­tional crime or­gan­i­sa­tions, they have money, they have man­power, weapons and tech­nol­ogy... so we have to con­stantly evolve to catch them," added Wut­tipong.

'Drug play­ground'

In the year to Septem­ber 18, Thai drug cops seized 199 mil­lion yaba pills, worth around $1.2 bil­lion on the lo­cal mar­ket, dou­ble the 2016 fig­ure. Op­er­a­tions also swept up nearly five tonnes of ice -- a four­fold in­crease on 2013. On Mon­day of­fi­cers seized a record $30 mil­lion worth of crys­tal meth from a courier try­ing to move the drugs from the north­east to cen­tral Thai­land -- the south-bound pipe­line that piv­ots through Ayut­thaya. But a glut of pre­cur­sor chem­i­cals is driv­ing a sup­ply surge from the drug labs of the 'Golden Triangle' -- a law­less bor­der zone shared by Myan­mar, Laos and Thai­land. Thai po­lice es­ti­mate be­tween 500 mil­lion and one bil­lion yaba tablets and up to 50 tonnes of ice

In the year to Septem­ber 18, Thai drug cops seized 199 mil­lion yaba pills, worth around $1.2 bil­lion on the lo­cal mar­ket, dou­ble the 2016 fig­ure.

Myan­mar's Shan State. Stamped with the 'WY' hall­mark of the Wa drug lords of Myan­mar, yaba goes for be­tween $4-$8 a pill in Thai­land. Ice, a cash cow at around $60-80 a gramme, is des­tined for Thai users but also smug­gled onto Malaysia and other over­seas mar­kets where its price rises.This month Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties seized nearly four tonnes of liq­uid ephedrine -- enough pre­cur­sor chem­i­cals to make $2.8 bil­lion of pure ice -- hid­den in a ship­ment of green tea bot­tles from Thai­land. Around 350 kilo­grams of ice from Thai­land was also re­cently un­cov­ered in Aus­tralia, which has the world's high­est per capita con­sump­tion of crys­tal meth. With more peo­ple get­ting high, Myan­mar's bor­der drug labs are work­ing over­time to meet de­mand.The coun­try's bor­der zones tion," Myan­mar Po­lice Colonel Zaw Lin Tun, told re­porters re­cently.

40-50% ad­dicted'

Crit­ics warn the war on drugs has long been lost in Thai­land, leav­ing jails stuffed with small-time ad­dicts as the men at the apex of the trade get away. Ad­dic­tion and crime are gnaw­ing away at once tight, kin-based com­mu­ni­ties in Maha Rat. "Lo­cal peo­ple know who is tak­ing drugs and who is sell­ing them, but it's dan­ger­ous to talk about it," Som­phal's rel­a­tive added. A health of­fi­cial, also too afraid to be named, told AFP that 40-50 per­cent of Maha Rat's small pop­u­la­tion are ad­dicted to drugs. Suc­ces­sive Thai gov­ern­ments have opted for the 'get tough' ap­proach to con­sump­tion in a bid to choke off sup­ply. That has re­sulted in the tenth high­est in­car­cer­a­tion rate in the world, ac­cord­ing to In­ter­na­tional Fed­er­a­tion for Hu­man Rights (FIDH). But it has failed to stem ad­dic­tion rates or dent pro­duc­tion.

Pro­pos­als for com­mu­nity-based re­hab pro­grammes in­stead of jail for mi­nor drug of­fend­ers have eva­po­rated, leav­ing the king­dom con­fronting an old scourge with the same weapons. "De­mand (for drugs) is through the roof, but there's no real re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­vi­sion," says Jeremy Dou­glas of the United Na­tions Of­fice of Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

"Drug pol­icy is stuck on re­peat."

Thai po­lice de­stroy a seized haul of il­le­gal drugs. Photo: EPA

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