Thai drug death toll hits 2 275

2003-04-16 12:45

Bangkok - The death toll in Thailand's brutal 10-week-old war on drugs has soared to 2 275, or more than 30 killings a day, police said on Wednesday.

The national police office said that of those killed, 51 were shot dead by police in self-defence while seven police were gunned down.

The three-month campaign against drug barons and traffickers was launched by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who said his forces would "X-ray every square inch" of the country to root out the drug trade.

Authorities have managed the arrests of just 249 suspects in connection with the killings, police said.

The police's Pongsapat Pongcharoen said: "(National police chief) General Sant Sarutanond was pleased with the crackdown and has vowed to carry on with harsh measures against drug barons for the remaining 15 days of the war on drugs."

While police are unable to say how many of the killings are drug-related, the national murder tally has been widely used as a proxy figure for the number of deaths resulting from the no-holds-barred battle against traffickers.

Authorities have repeatedly said the rest were murders carried out by drug gangs in a bid to protect themselves from prosecution.

Since the campaign began on February 1, police have arrested 51 531 drug suspects, of whom 404 were apparent drug producers and 15 160 apparent traffickers, said Pongsapat.

'It's a de facto shoot-to-kill policy'

Police confiscated 14.1 million methamphetamine pills and seized more than one billion baht (about R179.3m) in suspects' assets.

Several local and international human rights groups have condemned the violence, with Amnesty International likening Thaksin's campaign to a "de facto shoot-to-kill policy" of anyone believed to be involved in the drug trade.

Other groups, diplomats and Thai human rights commissioners have decried the high probability of extra-judicial killings being employed under heavy pressure to produce results.

Last Saturday, Thaksin said his drugs war would continue beyond April, with possible strategic modifications, until December 2, which he predicted would be Thailand's day of victory over drugs.

The drug blitz is focusing on methamphetamines, which flood into Thailand from Myanmar.

Five percent of Thailand's 63 million people abuse the drug, according to figures cited by the International Narcotics Control Board.