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Expose the 'traitors' in drug trade, says Prem

FORMER prime minister and Privy Councillor General Prem Tinsulanonda called yesterday for the disclosure of "well-known" public figures and government officials involved in illicit narcotics dealings.

Counter-narcotics authorities were well aware of the identity of these "national traitors", he said, but had never disclosed them to the public.

"These people are well received and respected by society because of their money. It seems money can provide them with everything, "Prem told the first National Congress of Law, which was attended by hundreds of officials, legal experts and professionals.

"In fact, these people have acquired their wealth illegally and do not deserve public respect or recognition. Instead, they must be dubbed ‘national traitors"; because they do not love the country. They are, in fact, leading the country into disaster," he said. Prem, who personally directed a successful military operation to dislodge opium warlord Khun Sa from Thailand in 1982, said drugs production, sale and consumption had seriously increased and the country had to use greater funds and personnel to combat the problem.

The drugs menace had gone from bad to worse, he said, especially when anti-drugs authorities were themselves involved in narcotics production and trafficking or helped facilitate these criminal activities. "With such corn-play [by anti-drugs officials], the country is facing a more complicated and difficult task to achieve its fights against narcotics," he said.

Poverty was the most pressing problem for the country, Prem said, and narcotics the second biggest challenge. The two were linked as many poor people had turned to drugs - consumption or complicity in trafficking or sale - to help them out of poverty or to forget about economic hardship. If poverty could be eradicated, drug problems would also be reduced, he said.

Drugs were "a major threat" to the country's peace and development, the former premier said, because drug activities, often led to other crimes, such as theft, robbery and rape. Illicit drug activities were not ordinary crimes and thus all government agencies needed to work out special measures to effectively and rapidly combat and prosecute the people involved.

Drug problems demanded attention from all state agencies, Prem said, including the justice, health, and education ministries. Even the Foreign Ministry was involved because Thailand's neighbours were both producers of drugs and the country's partners in drugs suppression. The former premier's concerns about drugs were echoed by other key speakers at the Law Congress.

Chaiwat Wongwattanasarn, secreatry-general of the Office of the Council of State, who chaired a discussion session on Thailand’s anti-drugs legislation, said the Foreign Ministry should negotiate with Thailand’s neighbours for joint combat operations against drug laboratories along their common borders. It should also seek permission for Thai forces’ to undertake "hot pursuits" of drug producers and traffickers across the frontier, he said.

Deputy Police Commissioner General Sant Sarutanont said Thailand had difficulties combating drug smuggling because it shared long borders – about 2,500 km of land and 2,500 km of sea frontier - with its neighbours. There were 57 official checkpoints and 732 unofficial crossings along the whole frontier which people used, and these were extremely difficult for the authorities to control.

There were more than 50 drug laboratories across the border from Thai-land, he said, and each had the capacity to produce about one million pills of methamphetamine a month. "These pills are smuggled through various crossings into the country," Sant added.

While drug abusers hurt themselves by consuming narcotics, other people were the target of users’ criminal activities, such as robberies. Sant said that in almost all drug-related crimes those found to be key criminals or collaborators were either "illegal aliens" or "illegal migrant workers".

Source: The Nation, Bangkok 16 Sep 2000

Prem Tinsulanonda Center for International Education, Chiang Mai, Kingdom of Thailand