Increased drug smuggling and the emergence of new drug types have complicated anti-drug efforts in Thailand

Thailand’s war with the biggest drug barons in the world has stepped up in pace this year with successive record seizures of  yaba pills and violence between Thai security forces and the drug smugglers. The escalation is linked to a breakthrough in Myanmar, where Taiwanese chemists have provided the drug cartels with cheaper formula for the production deadly yaba pills.

Thai soldiers based in China Rai successfully intercepted a drugs caravans from Myanmar’s drugs controlled regions last month killing mountain tribe people believed to be from the other side of the border and seizing nearly 1 million deadly yaba pills or what is known technically as methamphetamine. It was one of a growing number of drugs coups this year as tensions rise between the Thai authorities and the drugs lords of the golden triangle.

Drug states beyond Thailand’s borders driving the drug shipments and scourge into the country

The killing of five drug couriers crossing in to Thailand from Myanmar last month highlights the effective role of the Thai army and armed services in fighting a drugs war that, if anything, is escalating. It comes at a time when there is some political will in Thailand to reform the country’s drug laws but the threat to Thai society is very real. In the meantime authorities are intensifying efforts to stem the tide being generated beyond Thailand’s borders by mini states run by drug lords.

There has been a huge spike in drug trafficking across Thailand this year with reports that the drug barons, who rule small fiefdoms in the golden triangle between China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. The drug producers are reported to have discovered a new production process which uses legal ingredients to produce the banned substance. The results has seen a huge price reduction in yaba bills and a flood of the product into Thailand.

The spectacular drop in the price of yaba pills or methamphetamine is coinciding with bigger and bigger shipments and more seizures by Thai police within Thailand. This, unfortunately also translates into more violence and death as both sides in the struggle are playing for the highest stakes. Thailand hands out the death penalty for drug smuggling and the security forces are aware of the depredations of the substance and the pain it inflicts on Thai society.

Latest seizure sees 5 million pills seized in Phrae province as smugglers detected by police

The latest involved a massive haul of 5 million drugs in Phrae province in northern Thailand days ago. It followed a short road race with pursuing Thai police. The drug smugglers were recognised by vigilant Thai police and an army patrol in The Song district. The pair were in control of a Ford pickup truck and gave the game away when they quickly change direction having seen the trap they have fallen into on the road. The incident occurred last weekend. The desperate criminals ended up abandoning the vehicle. They were pursued by security forces and arrested shortly afterwards.

Two 24 year old Thai men arrested by Thai police say they were following a leader truck

Thai police seized a huge haul of 5 million pills contained in 30 plastic bags in the back if the truck with another 5 being carried in the front cab of the Ford. The drug smugglers were named by police as Sompong Takkrathanachuchai and Surachai Songtisaichoke, both only 24 years old. They were taken by police in order to gather intelligence. Police discovered that the pair were from Tak province and intended to transport the drugs haul to Bangkok. They had originated their ill fated journey in Chiang Rai. The smuggler revealed that they had instructions to follow another individual driving an Isuzu truck.

It was revealed by police in Phrae province that they had earlier received intelligence that a large shipment was being transported through the province.

Two Thai men killed in firefight with police after being stopped with yaba and heroin consignment

A similarly huge seizure of yaba pills and heroin was made by Thai police in May but on that occasions the two men involved met their deaths when they opened fire on arresting police. The two men opened fire from their vehicle, another pickup truck. Police also revealed that seizure as another product of good intelligence. Following a violent 60km chase when Thai police caught up with pair the duo were killed. Both men were later named as Khomsan Sae Song and Surin Sansongcharoen, 31 and 23 respectively from Lampang province. Two more lives sacrificed at the altar of illicit drugs and a trade that enriches the drug lords beyond the border.

Golden Triangle drugs region is alive and very active

The Golden Triangle, where the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet, has long been a notorious opium-producing area and supplied the whole world with illicit drugs. Though a series of rigorous and relentless from the governments have somewhat subdued operations of drug gangs in the region, there is fear that organized crime groups are now expanding and diversifying drug production in the Triangle. Thailand’s area is one of the most important, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). While trafficking of conventional drugs like heroin has declined in recent years, synthetic drug manufacturing has soared, threatening to make the region a new hub for synthetic drugs.

Drugs war being fought on the roads, sea and air by Thailand’s very active security services

Methamphetamine, or meth, has long reigned as the most popular synthetic drug. Its price, both in crystal and pill form, is dropping, indicating that the drug is being produced and easily accessible to users in large quantities. Despite strict border checks, illicit drugs are still being smuggled into the country through a range of transport options. The scourge is so widespread that Thailand’s Deputy PM and Justice Minister ACM Prajin Juntong said at an anti-narcotics workshop on October 31st that no province in Thailand was immune from the scourge of drugs. His remark was further proved by a number of record drug seizures. 200 bars of heroin worth ฿200 million were seized from four men in Chiang Mai on October 30th, three of the men were Taiwanese. Just one day before, the Thai Navy seized 14 million pills of methamphetamine as soon as they were smuggled into Chiang Rai by sea.

Thai government deploying extensive and innovative measures to countering the drug barons

Besides intercepting drug smuggling, Thai government has also embarked in several new initiative to address the drug issue. Thailand’s Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) has established drug-checkpoints in 19 strategic districts in four provinces which drug smugglers rely on for their operations.In addition, 47 vulnerable villages whose people are poor and live near the smuggling routes are considered for development projects. It is hoped that increased standard living will deter them from colluding with smugglers.

Thai authorities also vow to deal with corrupt officers aiding drug gangs at November conference

But the most dramatic measures will possibly be applied to the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) that is responsible for Thailand’s main campaigns against illicit drugs. Gen Apirat Kongsompong, who is ISOC deputy chief, vows that officers found guilty of corruption or drug offenses will be dismissed. He also promises that new effective measures will soon be launched to combat drug smuggling. ISOC spokesman Maj Gen Thanathip Sawangsaeng pointed out during a press conference on November 5th that drug trade was a key threat to Thailand’s national security. In addition to causing social ills and instability, it is used by armed minority groups in neighboring country as means of financing their weapon purchases, playing an important part in destabilizing the borders.

Gangs intercepted by Thai authorities often lash out with violence as they face rigid Thai laws

The drugs war has certainly take on a new emphasis in 2018 with record seizures. When gangs are intercepted by Thai authorities, the drug couriers often lash out violently knowing their fate is sealed by Thailand’s tough legal attitude to those engaged in drug distribution. There is mandatory death penalty provision. In recent days there have been further arrests were smugglers were taken into custody but in many cases there have been firefights between the criminals and security forces. Many lives are being lost.

Mini states, where drug lords rule, treat visitors with suspicion and supply world markets

The new cheaper yaba pills have motivated the drug lords of the Golden Triangle to become bolder, sending bigger and bigger loads not only to Thailand but other markets throughout Asia and the Pacific. Behind Myanmar’s borders in particular, these organisations are run like mini states where visitors are treated with suspicion. The drug lords control all aspects of life in these communities. They run sophisticated and effective education and social welfare problems to foster support among the populace. A pick up truck intercepted by Thai police in May was driven by two Thai drug couriers from Lampang province. Both died in a shootout with the police before it was later revealed that they were a carrying a record haul of 5 million yaba bills and nearly 200 kg of pure heroin.

WA army ensconced in Myanmar a major source of the drugs scourge not only in Thailand

The May consignment of drugs was identified by police as originating from the region in Myanmar controlled by the fierce Wa army. The Wa army and its leaders administer a significant area in the Wa and Shan region with Myanmar which the Burmese authorities have effectively ceded their control. The region functions for all intents and purposes as an internal but independent state. It is also a state engaged in a wide variety of nefarious activities, chief among them drug production and distribution but also a profitable businesses in the wildlife trade worldwide. The Wa army supplies drugs to China, Thailand and Laos and outwards to the four corners of the world. It is effectively at war with the US narcotic agencies as it carries on its illicit trade in drugs from the region which has never been brought under control by a recognised government due to the sensitive geo politics of the area.

New methamphetamine production developed by Taiwanese process behind the drugs surge

There are reports that drug barons, on the Myanmar side of the border with the Thailand, have found a new production method. This intelligence suggests that Taiwanese chemists have made the breakthrough. It involves a new formula for the yaba or methamphetamine doses made from substances which are easier to procure and not in themselves illegal. Thai authorities had hitherto proscribed key elements in the manufacturing process to tighten control on the illicit industry and make the trade less profitable. While Thailand has relaxed its laws in the production of medical cannabis this month, it is more determined than ever to stamp out the destruction and harm that illicit drugs are still causing within the country.

Bus Driver high on yaba killed 18 people in horrific bus crash – highlights the danger of the  drug

A recent conviction in a Thai court saw a Korat based bus driver sentenced to four years imprisonment after killing 18 people while driving his tour bus high on methamphetamine. He had fled the scene after the crash as he had prior convictions for abusing the substance. The case is not unusual. In Thailand’s tight labour market with under 1% unemployment, employers seeking low cost labour often employ individuals with chronic drug habits unknown to them. These unfortunate but dangerous people still seek work to feed their habit. Methamphetamine produces a high by damaging the brain’s judgment system and this damage quickly becomes permanent. Thailand does not have a social welfare system which is why the unemployment rate is so low.

Thai law markers increasingly concerned at large number of Thai people jailed for petty drug offences particularly the use of yaba

Thai lawmakers are increasingly concerned however by the sheer numbers of Thai citizens incarcerated due to this substance with reports that over 80% of the 30,000 Thai woman locked up in Thailand’s prison system are there for methamphetamine possession or similar substances. The news that the price of the drug has fallen with the bigger quantities that are inward bound to the country is bad news for the country’s authorities who have taken steps recently to ease prison sentencing policy for small quantities of scheduled drugs but must fight the menace of the drug industry which has the power to wreak havoc on the country if left unchecked. The prices has reportedly fallen to only $2 to $3 per pill or under ฿100.

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Further reading:

Thailand at war with WA army and its state in Myanmar over drugs trade

Thailand’s drug problem differs from Western Countries