Thailand curbing Golden Triangle drug trade with enforcement, rehabilitation

Thailand curbing Golden Triangle drug trade with enforcement, rehabilitation

Tom Abke

Countering the narcotics trade in Thailand requires conquering the so-called Golden Triangle, an infamous region where the borders of Burma, Laos and Thailand meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers.

Recent successes in stemming drug trafficking in Thailand’s Chiang Rai province in the Golden Triangle are attributed to a multilateral combination of law enforcement training, monitoring and seizures, and rehabilitation of those involved in the narcotics trade.

More than 130 officers of the Royal Thailand Police’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB), pictured, are graduates of the International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok, including Lt. Gen. Montri Yimyaem, the bureau’s commissioner. Established in 1998 by Thailand and the United States, the academy has trained 22,000 law enforcement personnel from 15 Indo-Pacific countries in courses that focus on the region’s crime trends. Narcotics investigations topped the list in 2020.

Variants of the stimulant methamphetamine have supplanted heroin as the most heavily produced and trafficked narcotic in the Golden Triangle, with methamphetamine seizures reaching a record 140 tons in 2019, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

In 2020, the NSB crippled the Bad Brother criminal network, which was run by a disgraced politician and his brother, Montri told reporters in December. Raids on 25 compounds yielded close to U.S. $2 million in cash and contraband, including 1.5 tons of methamphetamine. NSB officers also disrupted the Jun drug network, arresting 15 members and seizing about U.S. $1.7 million worth of assets, including houses, cars and bank accounts, the Bangkok Post newspaper reported.

Thailand also is focusing on rehabilitation, including a program that helps drug offenders reintegrate into society, the Bangkok Post reported in September 2020. Begun by the Justice Ministry in 2017, the Kalae Tapae Project operates at 11 halfway houses, each of which can house 25 former offenders for up to four months. Residents receive clothes, food and job training.

The Doi Tung Development Project in Chiang Rai is described by its benefactor, the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, as an initiative to transition residents away from the drug trade. The project’s three phases cover drug rehabilitation, education and infrastructure; sustainable nondrug income sources such as food, handicrafts, horticulture and tourism; and business enhancement and income stabilization.

In its three decades, Doi Tung has been implemented in 29 villages across the province, opening farms, cafes and a youth leadership program co-funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Doi Tung was recognized by the U.N. as “one of the world’s best examples of alternative development.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.