Junta aids drug trade, says Thai crusader

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 January, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 19 January, 1998, 12:00am

A senior Thai anti-drugs fighter has accused Burma's military regime of conniving with opium and amphetamine producers.

Banphot Piamdi, director of the Narcotics Suppression Centre for northern Thailand, told Thai Rath that Burma had refused to discuss the problem or consider joint efforts to suppress the trade. He said the regime had failed to respond to approaches from Thailand even after becoming a full member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last year.

Burma's Shan state, which borders northern Thailand, is one of the biggest sources of heroin in the world and has become the principal producer of amphetamines smuggled into Thailand. Claims by the junta that it was clamping down on the trade were just hot air, Mr Banphot said. 'The Government says one thing but does another,' he said.

Rangoon claimed a major victory when notorious heroin warlord Khun Sa surrendered to its forces two years ago.

But Mr Banphot said: 'In reality, the Khun Sa group under Chamoung has got permission from Rangoon to produce narcotics in areas close to the Thai border.' Other reports have said that Khun Sa has re-emerged as a businessman and is trafficking from the protection of a safe house in Rangoon.

Mr Banphot said the production of amphetamines inside Burma was rampant and thought it 'quite likely' that military commanders helped the warlike ethnic Wa minority produce and traffick in amphetamines.

Burma's military regime has never denied huge amounts of opium and heroin are produced in the Golden Triangle area of northeastern Burma. But the junta has claimed it does not have the military muscle to force drug producers in isolated areas to switch to legal crops.

The military Government's critics believe it sees no need to take effective measures against ethnic minority or ethnic Chinese traffickers.

Mr Banphot said the Wa traffickers had probably struck a deal with the regime to continue their drug trade if they put down their weapons and kept out of politics.

There have been repeated claims that many members of the regime do more than merely permit trafficking to continue.

Much of the entrepreneurial activity in Rangoon and the northern capital, Mandalay, would be hard to explain without reference to drug profits.

A deluge of amphetamines from the Golden Triangle in recent years has sharpened Thai worries about trafficking, which received a lower priority when the drugs mainly flowed through to third countries.

Mutual suspicions fostered by centuries of Thai-Burmese rivalry and the whims of powerful Burmese regional commanders have complicated attempts at co-operation.