Saturday, 23 February 2008

Thailand threat to shoot 4,000 in drug war

Bangkok Post
By Thomas Bell in Bangkok

The new Thai government is to relaunch the country's "war on drugs" which killed more than 2,500 people allegedly involved in the trade.

During a three-month killing spree in 2003 as intense as a full-scale armed conflict, thousands named on police "black lists" were shot dead, allegedly on government orders.

Yet the government's narcotics control board concluded that more than half the victims had no involvement in drugs. One couple from north-eastern Thailand were shot dead after coming into unexplained wealth and being added to a black list. They were, in fact, lottery winners.

The campaign was one of the principal policies of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister and Mr Samak's political patron, who now lives in exile and owns Manchester City Football Club.

"My government will decisively implement a policy against drug trafficking. Government officials must implement this policy 24 hours a day, but I will not set a target for how many people should die," said Samak Sundaravej, the new prime minister.

The interior minister Chalerm Yubamrung, said: "When we implement a policy that may bring 3,000 to 4,000 bodies, we will do it,"

Although the military junta which overthrew Mr Thaksin in 2006 called the killings "a crime against humanity", the former premier and his supporters - who were re-elected in December - insist that the dead were the victims of gang warfare, not police killings.

Yet there is strong evidence of police involvement. Many were shot days after being summoned to defend themselves before local authorities or after reporting to a police station to have their name removed from the "black list".

The government ordered the police to compile "back lists" which were as comprehensive as possible, then shorten the list by 25 per cent every month. Often the only way off the list was death.

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