Golden Triangle plan goes bust

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 October, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 October, 1998, 12:00am

An ambitious international plan to develop the Golden Triangle is under threat from a recession that is fuelling its notorious underground drug trafficking and smuggling networks.

Thai Commerce Ministry officials have confirmed reports that the Quadrangle of Economic Co-operation lies effectively scuttled unless new international efforts are urgently made.

'Businesses under the plan are going bust or going nowhere and the old gangsters remain,' a government official said. 'It all looks like a dead letter unless something can be urgently done between the countries at the highest level.' The Quadrangle was hatched six years ago to spark co-operation between Burma, Laos, Thailand and China and bring legitimate tourist and industrial dollars to one of Southeast Asia's most isolated and desperate corners.

The plan was initially hailed as a boost to on-going efforts by Thailand, the United Nations and the US Government to gradually ease the monetary dependence of hill tribes on the opium trade.

But plans to link up five cities - Xieng Tong, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Kengtung and Jing Hong - have foundered amid political differences, cultural misunderstandings and on-going Customs restrictions in Laos and China.

Partially completed hotels, casinos and shopping malls funded by Thai investors lie abandoned and other projects have been scrapped before work has even started.

At the same time, concern is mounting among Thai police and diplomats that criminal activity in the area is soaring amid the economic downturn.

Log smuggling on the Lao and Burmese borders is continuing to thrive to the detriment of some of Indochina's last virgin forests, while amphetamine production is spiralling amid the traditional industries of opium and heroin.

'The underground business is rooted in society,' Choosak Trisrisilp, of the Chiang Rai chamber of commerce, said recently. 'It's an uphill task to stamp it out.'