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War on drugs: Wa redirect ya ba to new markets

Thai crackdown sees pills flowing into Laos, India

Laos, Cambodia and India are finding more methamphetamine pills turning up on their streets as traffickers spooked by Thailand’s war on drugs turn to new, safer markets.

Sandro Calvani, head of the United Nations’ drugs and crime regional centre for East Asia and the Pacific, said on Wednesday that he feared it was “just the beginning” for Thailand’s neighbours, which until now had no serious problems with amphetamines.

Speed pills bearing the stamp of the Wa, an ethnic force in Burma that produces many of the illicit drugs in Southeast Asia, have been seized in Laos, Cambodia and India. They have been particularly popping up in towns in western India, where the pills had not been previously available, he said.

“It is the so-called balloon effect – you squeeze in one part and it bulges out somewhere else.”

He was unable to say what amounts had been seized, and said it was too early to estimate the extent of the problem.

In California, authorities were still testing the tablets to verify whether they had in fact originated in Burma. “Obviously dealers are looking for new markets,” Calvani said. As the street price of ya ba soars in Thailand, the price in Phnom Penh has plummeted from Bt100 to Bt30 per tablet as the pills flood the market in Cambodia’s capital.

Thailand’s three-month crackdown has been linked to more than 2,000 deaths, and led to allegations of extra-judicial killings by police.

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has blamed the murders on inter-gang warfare, but acknowledged some police may have silenced players to cover up their own involvement in the drug trade.

Calvani said it was logical for Thailand to be the first country in Southeast Asia affected by recreational drugs, as it closely mirrored Western trends, and was about five years ahead of some of its neighbours.

Another official at the UN International Drug Control Programme, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was worrying if Thailand’s hard-line crusade against traffickers pushed supplies into nearby countries, where ya ba problems had been minimal and no infrastructure existed to deal with them.

The official, whose agency coordinates anti-drug projects throughout Asia, said addicts in Thailand were reportedly switching to other drugs – such as heroin or solvents – to get their fix.

The crackdown had been confined to locals, rather than foreigners, to avoid further weakening a tourist industry already suffering from the Sars epidemic, he said.

The Nation, 9 May 2003

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