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One Thousand Reported Dead In Thailand War Against Drugs

By Alan Sipress
THE WASHINGTON POST -- When Thailand’s prime minister launched a campaign Feb. 1 to eradicate drugs from his country within three months, skeptics predicted the effort would prove no more successful than his earlier pledges to eliminate pollution and untangle Bangkok’s notorious traffic jams.

But within days, the seriousness of the initiative became brutally clear. Police reported at least 300 drug-related slayings over the first two weeks, and by March 1, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced that 1,100 people had been killed during the offensive.

Government officials say most of the killings have been the result of violence among rival drug gangs panicked by the crackdown. Police acknowledge responsibility for only about 30 of the deaths, saying these were largely self-defense shootings.

Human rights activists, however, suspect that many of the killings have been carried out by Thai security forces and allied gunmen as they try to meet Thaksin’s quota for reducing the number of drug producers and dealers on a government list of suspects.

“According to our research, most of them are killed by the police, because they want to meet the target,” said Somchai Homlaor, secretary general of Forum Asia, a human rights group. “They think if the drug dealers are brought to court, they will be released again. A better way to solve the drug problem is to kill them.”

His group reported it has uncovered at least three cases in which drugs were planted on victims before their bodies were turned over to the coroner.

U.N. special human rights envoy Asma Jahangir recently added her “deep concern” to the mounting criticism, issuing a statement citing “allegations of excessive use of force resulting in extrajudicial executions.”

Increasingly nervous about Thailand’s international reputation, the Foreign Ministry called diplomats from more than 50 countries to a briefing last week to make the government’s case. “It’s necessary for the government to take decisive action to deal with the drug problem,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Sihasak Pheungketkaew said after the session. “We are not insensitive to the concerns of the international community, but we want the international community to see our side of the story.”