FROM THE BARRACKS_Drug smugglers have a field day as border patrols reassigned to political tasks

By: Wassana Nanuam
Published: 5/03/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News
The military’s preoccupation with political missions has swung open the northern border frontiers to drug traffickers.

The political priorities may have overridden the urgency to plug border gaps and thus the military’s duty to suppress drugs risks falling by the wayside.

Speed pills are being peddled in forests and it is done almost as easily as foraging for wild berries. Traders enter the forests to negotiate with drugs suppliers on a wholesale price for the pills, according to a military source.

It is not that the Third Army or the Pha Muang task force supervising the northern border security have neglected their jobs. It is simply because drug-busting soldiers are few these days.

A number of the military drug combatants have been assigned tasks alien to them, having been mobilised to fulfil political assignments.

Since the Sept 19, 2006 coup which sent former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra into exile, a vast number of soldiers occupied with sealing the border against penetration by drug traffickers, have been re-assigned with instructions to cosy up to local communities. The exercise was interpreted as a means to wean people off the political influence of a certain political enterprise.

Military commanders – the coup engineers included – have been so busy tying up loose ends that they have let their guard down against intrusion by border drug traffickers in the North.

Intelligence officials who normally had their fingers on the pulse of news related to drug trafficking, stepped away from their responsibility, going further away from their sources of information and thus impeding intelligence compilation.

It is no easy task re-establishing informant contacts or getting re-acquainted with the sources. The drug networks have become more suspicious of whom they speak to.

The scaled-back intelligence and dwindling number of border soldiers have lifted the floodgates to drugs flowing into the country.

Although drug hauls have been made, the amount of illicit substances seized is disappointingly small, owing in part to the possible bribes which authorities pocketed from traffickers in exchange for border clearance, claimed a high-ranking source in the Third Army.

There has been no let-up in production of drugs by the minority rebels active on the Burmese side.

But it is the Thai authorities who have slowed their border policing operations at the expense of the country’s narcotics control efficiency.

Down south, the diversion of manpower to serve a political purpose has also hurt the goal of uprooting the separatist insurgency.

An alarm has now been set off, with credible reports of the ethnic rebel group Red Wa on its way to boosting methamphetamine output by a steep 20% to offset the volume of drugs seized by Thai authorities and to pay for replenishing the group’s stockpile of weapons used to counter its enemies in the upcoming dry season.

A source familiar with the issue said the Red Wa plans to churn out a record 500 million speed pills this year. All of the pills are expected to be smuggled into Thailand through the broken border seams.

The orange methamphetamine pills embossed with the signature WY have found markets in Thailand while a new version of the pills bearing the letters TG is being developed. The pills become more expensive as they travel deeper into Thailand, sometimes changing hands for 250 baht each.

It is estimated that the supply of heroin originating from the infamous Golden Triangle will surge by 30% this year, since opium cultivation has quadrupled in yield.

Demands for heroin and cocktail drugs is buoyed by the constant stream of orders from drug abusers at wild parties.

There is no better time than now for the army to relieve its soldiers of political preoccupation and swing its focus back to the drugs problem rampant on the common Thai-Burmese border. Return the soldiers to the borders where they are needed most.

The Third Army with its jurisdiction in the North where Thaksin Shinawatra wields substantial political influence, has reportedly been ordered to place its manpower in a position to contain the former prime minister’s loyalists and keep his political henchmen on a tight leash in future elections.

It is as clear as day that the military has chosen to be on the ruling Democrat party’s side. It reportedly succeeded in lobbying politicians to back Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva for the premiership, while being seen to be responsive to the government’s request for soldiers to reinforce the police in anti-riot exercises and instill public order – the very tasks the military seemed hesitant to fulfil before.

The community relations programme which drug-suppression soldiers have engaged in are criticised as a facade for a sinister objective – emasculating the anti-government, red-clad United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship.

It is business as usual for the illegal drug producers while the northern borders are under-policed. The army used to be showered with credit for guarding the country’s gates against narcotic drug inflows. But the political agenda seems to have put the keys to the gates in the hands of traffickers.

Wassana Nanuam reports on military affairs for the Bangkok Post.

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