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Classroom spies in Malaysia

In the northern Malaysia state of Perlis, classroom spies are helping authorities ferret out growing drug abuse among youth. But a senior government minister has aroused vociferous protest with a suggestion that such spy squads should be adopted nationwide.

Deputy home affairs minister Radzi Sheikh Ahmad, who heads the government's get-tough campaign against drug trafficking, made the suggestion after a recent visit to Perlis, whose position abutting the Thai border inevitably makes it a frontline base for drug smugglers.

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He said specially trained students acting as the eyes and ears of school authorities could be a vital weapon in stopping drug abuse early.

At first, the minister was quoted in newspapers as announcing the establishment of a nationwide junior spy system, but he later insisted he had only suggested the Perlis experiment was worth considering by other parts of the country.

The idea did not go down well with either teachers or parents. One school principal said the knowledge that there are spies in their midst would create a sense of mistrust among children and could lead to serious problems later on in life.

A concerned parent felt the presence of a spy, even in a good cause like helping to stamp out drug abuse, would simply encourage youngsters to become more secretive and less open to others.

Another worried that ''unscrupulous children could level accusations against classmates simply to gain favor for vindictive reasons. . . . It would be very hard to police the system and those falsely accused would be tarnished for life.''

Officials in Perlis said tip-offs from the classroom spies were very carefully investigated, and compared with other sources of information before a suspected drug user was confronted.

Critics of the idea, however, felt the emphasis was all wrong and the government instead should be examining the overall reasons why drug addiction is spreading among the young.

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Drug experts say Malaysia has become an important conduit for supplies of heroin and other narcotics flowing from the so-called Golden Triangle area spreading over parts of Burma, Laos, and northern Thailand, where drug cultivation has long been a most important source of local income.

Recent police raids have uncovered an extensive drug smuggling network passing through Malaysia and Singapore. But increasing amounts of drugs are staying in Malaysia to cater to an estimated 400,000 addicts, more than half of them under the age of 25.

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