Thailand is stepping up measures to stop the intensifying influx of narcotics into the country from strife-torn Myanmar and communist Laos through its porous borders.
As part of armed operations, an army border patrol unit killed six drug smugglers at dawn on Nov. 23 in a shootout in the northern province of Chiang Rai after around a dozen smugglers had crossed into Thailand from Myanmar, according to an official account.
The alleged couriers opened fire when they encountered the army patrol, whose members returned fire during a shootout that lasted half an hour. The Thai soldiers killed six of the illegal border crossers, said Col. Sutkhet Srinilthin, commander of a locally based unit.
The officers found nine straw bags, each of which contained about 200,000 methamphetamine pills, or 1.8 million in total.
Before this incident Thai officials had this month seized a total of 6.4 million methamphetamine pills, 300 kilograms of crystal meth and 200 kg. of marijuana in several cases, according to the police’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau.
Meanwhile, police in Laos last month seized more than 55 million methamphetamine pills and 1.5 tons of crystal meth in what a senior official at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime called “by far the largest seizure in the history of East and Southeast Asia.”
The vast quantities of narcotics were about to be smuggled by truck into Thailand at a border crossing where the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar converge in the so-called Golden Triangle when Laotian police stopped the vehicle to search its cargo, discovering the illicit drugs packed into beer crates.
UNODC has warned that political unrest in Myanmar, where the military seized power in a coup in February, has led to an upsurge in the production and trafficking of narcotics, especially in Shan State where minority ethnic militias seek to finance their armed struggle against the military through the sale of locally produced narcotics.
“Neighbors and the wider region are getting absolutely flooded with methamphetamines, and there is little doubt it is connected to the governance situation in Shan [state],” Jeremy Douglas, the UN agency’s regional representative in Southeast Asia, said last month.
Drug traffickers are seeking to smuggle their illicit merchandise into Laos and Thailand as another smuggling route, into China, has been sealed shut because of rigorous Covid-19 measures in China’s Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar, Douglas said.
“This is related to the security and governance breakdown in the [Golden] Triangle and Shan [state] — spillover is hitting the region,” the UN expert said.
At the same time, demand for cheap methamphetamines remains considerable in Thailand where a severe economic downturn has worsened the already high rates of substance abuse and drug addiction, experts say.
Many Thais, including some officials, are seeking to profit from the sale of illegal narcotics.
In late September, acting on a tip, police in Chiang Rai arrested an assistant village chief and seized 3.8 million speed pills and 1 kg. of ketamine.
The local official, who was also found to have a handgun on him without a license, was charged with being part of a trafficking ring in the area and other crimes.
This story appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.