Wednesday, June 18, 2003

A very disturbing story coming out of the country that I spend a lot of time hanging out in during the winter months: Thailand.

Just a few weeks before President George Bush launched the attack on Iraq, Thailand's Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra declared his own war, against the country's stubborn methamphetamine trade.

Over the following three months, while most of the world's attention was on the Middle East, Thai military and police-controlled hit squads shot to death nearly 2,300 people, in their homes, in the middle of the street, and sometimes just after taking them into custody. At the peak, these extrajudicial executions topped 40 a day.

While officially denying the government was running a murder campaign, Thaksin, a former police officer, cheered the deaths as a victory over the narcotics trade. Yet, if involved in drugs at all, the victims were nearly all petty users and small dealers. The dead include several children and a number of apparently misidentified people. In some cases, the police had only scant evidence – such as the accusation of a business rival – upon which they made their decision to kill.

Meanwhile, actual kingpins of the drug trade, many with connections in police, military and political circles, are getting the soft touch, if pursued at all.