Despite Strong Rhetoric, Thailand’s Latest Drug War a Restrained Campaign

Despite Strong Rhetoric, Thailand’s Latest Drug War a Restrained Campaign

CHIANG MAI, Thailand -- Promises of a war on drugs by Thailand's new government had many Thais fearing a replay of the heavy-handed 2003 anti-drug campaign that saw the deaths of almost 3,000 people. So far, however, the new war has been a restrained affair, revealing much about the political strength of Thailand's People's Power Party-led government.

The push for carrying out a second campaign against illicit drugs came from Thailand's new interior minister, Chalerm Yabumrung, who had campaigned on the issue. In the wake of his party's December 2007 election victory and with the approval of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, the interior minister declared the drug war officially started on April 2.

Thailand's previous drug war, which lasted from February to April 2003, was the brainchild of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a 2006 coup. By 2003, the use of methamphetamines, known as ya ba or "crazy drug" in Thai, had become rampant in Thai society. Initially used by truck drivers on long haul routes, the drug had permeated all levels of society. The government estimated that year that 3 million Thais, or 5 percent of the population, were users, with 300,000 of those being addicts. It also estimated that 700 million tablets were being smuggled in from Burma each year.

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