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As drug trafficking revives, Thais back another harsh crackdown

In 2003, a violent government antidrug campaign resulted in more than 2,500 deaths.

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By day, Bangkok's largest slum broils under a scorching sun. Schoolchildren in crisp uniforms scuttle past sidewalk food vendors. But at night, say local activists, the dockside lanes of Khlong Toey belong to peddlers of methamphetamine pills, known to Thais as ya ba, or crazy medicine.

Wanlop Hirikul, a community leader and radio broadcaster, has been here before. Until 2003, his district was overrun with dealers hawking meth pills. Then came a violent but popular antidrug campaign led by former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra that disrupted trafficking networks and forced tens of thousands of addicts into rehabilitation camps.

Today, the situation is reversing. "It's getting worse. The drugs are coming back to our community … where there used to be one dealer on the street, now there are three," Mr. Wanlop says.

Thai authorities are facing a spike in meth sales in poor communities. Counternarcotics officials warn that political instability is emboldening illegal drug manufacturers in Burma (Myanmar) who smuggle millions of pills into Thailand and across Southeast Asia, including growing markets in Cambodia and Laos.

The apparent failure of the military junta, which ousted Thaksin in 2006, to curb drug trafficking has proved a political gift to opponents. Officials in the pro-Thaksin People's Power Party (PPP) won the largest number of seats in Dec. 23 parliamentary elections, the first since the coup, after vowing to revive the "war on drugs."


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