Thai army kills 5 suspected drug smugglers near ‘Golden Triangle’

Almost 500,000 methamphetamine pills were found after a clash between Thai forces and suspected smugglers in Thailand’s north.

Thai soldiers stand guard at Ban Kaen Kai operation base on the Mekong river at the border between Thailand and Laos in 2016 - part of the region, known as the Golden Triangle
Thai soldiers stand guard at Ban Kaen Kai operation base on the Mekong River at the border between Thailand and Laos in 2016 [File: Jorge Silva/Reuters]

The Thai military has killed five suspected drug traffickers and recovered almost 500,000 methamphetamine pills following a clash in the north of Thailand near the infamous “Golden Triangle” region.

A military patrol encountered suspected smugglers carrying backpacks in the early hours of Thursday in Chiang Rai province near the Golden Triangle – the region where the jungle borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar meet and has long been a lucrative hub for the illegal drug trade.

Refusing to be searched, the group of five opened fire and an armed clash ensued that lasted about five minutes, the Thai military’s Pha Muang Task Force said in a statement on Friday.

The five suspects were killed and no Thai soldiers were injured, the task force said, noting that close to half a million methamphetamine pills and a gun were found in the group’s possession.

“Narcotics have been very prevalent [at the border] but recently there has been an order from the commander to step up law enforcement efforts,” Premchai Premkamol, an officer with Pha Muang Task Force, told AFP news agency.

The latest clash follows two similar incidents – the killing of six alleged drug smugglers earlier this week in nearby Chiang Mai province and an altercation in December involving 15 deaths.

According to anti-narcotics experts, the drug trade in the Golden Triangle region has surged since a military coup in Myanmar in February 2021 with reports that the production and trafficking of methamphetamine and opium has boomed since the military takeover.

Thailand’s local Chiang Mai News outlet reported on Tuesday that six suspects were killed and 19 backpacks containing hundreds of kilogrammes of ketamine were recovered following a clash with suspected traffickers in Chiang Mai province.

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is poised to release a new report on opium cultivation in Myanmar, which the UN said had seen close to a decade of decline until production increased slightly in 2021.

The increase in cultivation continued last year. Now, after the first full opium cultivation season “following the February 2021 military takeover – and it is clear the country is experiencing a profound change in the opium economy”, the UNODC said in a short statement on Thursday.

Southeast Asia is awash with methamphetamine, and authorities netted a record billion pills across the Asian region in 2021, according to a UN report.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies