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Opinion

The ‘war on drugs’ is a complete failure

Tim Newton

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The ‘war on drugs’ is a complete failure | The Thaiger

Authorities are losing the war against methamphetamines – pills and crystal meth.

The demand for both crystal meth and ‘yaba’ is escalating as is the production to meet the increasing demand. The much-publicised ‘Wars on Drugs’ being waged from time to time in south east asian countries are doing little dent the rising popularity and production of the drugs, whilst thousands lose their lives in extra-judicial killings, legislated by governments.

The cynical political point-scoring from these ‘wars’ might be boosting the ‘tough guy’ reputations at regional polls but doing very little to prevent the drugs from getting through, indeed in greater numbers.

Meth, in all its forms, has become the dominant drug of choice across the south east asian region. It’s not a drug of the poor and desperate, it reaches into all classes, ages and gender.

Methamphetamine is a synthetic drug. It’s made in a lab using chemicals and doesn’t require drug makers to cultivate crops, such as poppies, as is the case with heroin. Large swathes of agricultural land are hard to hide. A meth-lab is much smaller and easier to hide. They’re also built so they can be dismantled and moved quickly when the ‘heat is on’.

The 'war on drugs' is a complete failure | News by The Thaiger

The majority of meth production is still happening deep in the jungles of the infamous Golden Triangle, a lawless area which crosses the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar. Drug enforcement experts admit it’s easy to conceal drug production in the jungles and move it on at short notice. They’re sophisticated organisations, fully teched-up and able to remain one step ahead of enforcement. They are well-armed and able to protect their assets if the need be.

Meanwhile the new Belt and Road initiative – China’s reach out from it borders with loans for trade infrastructure – is enabling the movement of these illicit drugs on new roads and railways, cutting through areas that were earlier unpassable. Beijing has already spent up big in Myanmar where it has poured billions to connect China’s landlocked Yunnan province to the nearest port cities in Myanmar, Vietnam and Thailand. More trade through these regions, and people movement, is helping mask the movement of the drug shipments.

Regional police trumpet the seizures of huge hauls of pills each week. The numbers are staggering, often counting in the millions, truckloads with sacks of these drugs. Of course the small-time couriers are nabbed and arrested, the police get their ‘selfie’ and the governments rest easy at night thinking they are winning the war.

They’re not. Not even close.

Profits of hundreds of millions of dollars, are being intricately laundered through trans-border officials, shelf companies, international banking and abuse of lax legislation, enabling it all to happen.

The organisations are tech-savvy, are willing to sacrifice a few million tablets and drug mules, and operate out of corporate offices – they’re modern business people providing a product to fill a need.

John Coyne, a former head of strategic intelligence with the Australian Federal Police and now works on border security at the Australia Strategic Policy Institute, says the methamphetamine situation is a perfect storm.

“It’s pushing Southeast Asia into what could be in time a methamphetamine epidemic,” John said in a CNN interview.

The 'war on drugs' is a complete failure | News by The Thaiger

Whilst Thai and Laos drug authorities believe they have a broad understanding of the operations in their sections of the Golden Triangle, a large portion of the meth seized, headed for the Asia Pacific region, can be traced to Myanmar’s northern Shan State, an area where militias and warlords run the shop, thousands of kilometres away from the prying eyes of central governments.

The regions are run by quasi politico-military organisations that have been shunned by their country’s mainstream politics.

Amid the manufacture of meth in the Shan state, there is also an ethnic struggle for land, a good poppy-growing climate and little law enforcement. The UWSA (United Wa State Army), one of the leading ethnic factions in the region, is accused of funding their armed struggle against Myanmar’s government with their huge profits from meth production (and earlier heroin and opium in past decades).

The statistics are staggering. It only took five months for seizures in Malaysia and Myanmar this year to surpass the 2017 totals. In Thailand, seizures of drugs (and the almost daily selfies of the proud police and the seized booty) has increased markedly throughout 2018.

While those busts are being interpreted to mean that law enforcement is winning its fight against traffickers, it also a bold declaration of the sheer quantity of meth being moved around the region.

Meth producers have gone into overproduction in the past 12 months, driving down the cost of making the drugs, in turn making it easier for dealers to live with the massive busts. The reality is that the drugs intercepted are a tiny fraction, maybe less than a few percent, of the total quantities of meth being shipped around the region and making its way into the streets we live in.

The 'war on drugs' is a complete failure | News by The Thaiger

Tim Newton has lived in Thailand since 2012. An Australian, he has worked in the media, principally radio and TV, for nearly 40 years. He has won the Deutsche Welle Award for best radio talk program, presented 3,200 radio news bulletins in Thailand alone, hosted 360 daily TV news programs, produced 1,800 videos, TV commercials and documentaries and now produces digital media for The Thaiger - Website, Radio, TV, Instagram and Facebook.

Opinion

What’s the use of number plates if you can’t read them?

Kritsada Mueanhawong

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What’s the use of number plates if you can’t read them? | The Thaiger

by DW (anonymously sent to The Thaiger)

Hiding in plain sight, and rarely noted—at least by anyone I’ve spoken with—are thousands of cars, vans, buses, trucks, and even motorcycles. Most are commercial vehicles … you know, the ones with green and yellow plates.

Now when I say they’re “hiding in plain sight”, I mean to say that yes, you can plainly see that it’s a Toyota Camry, or white passenger van, but take a look at that license plate. Isn’t it difficult to make out the numbers now that they’re painted over with the same colour as the background?

Oh, wait a minute, maybe you’re looking at one of those immaculate plates that have the highly reflective plastic covers. Yes, those ones that catch any bit of sunlight and bounce it back in such way that the plate numbers are near impossible to read.

Bad enough during the day, but at night, the glare from your own headlights is enough to blind you!

Speaking of which, there is another interesting observation to be made: Next time it’s dark and you are in a line of cars waiting for the light to turn green, take a look around at the license plates.

You will likely see a lot of vehicles that have the small lights meant to illuminate the rear plate either not working or, dare I say, “modified” to disguise the numbers barely on display. If you’re keeping tabs, you will also note that the vast majority of these modifications are associated with the green and yellow license plates.

Does that surprise you?

Now consider how many times you’ve seen vehicles racing through the streets, highways, and byways of this fine little island. And, for just a moment, stop and think, how many times have you noted green or yellow plates in those photos of horrific accidents that are all-too-often reported in our newspapers?

What of the speed cameras and prolific use of CCTV to monitor every street, lane, and intersection? Surely that must go some way to reducing the carnage. (It seems we hear less of drivers fleeing the scene, so maybe there is a return on the investment, after all.)

Now if disguising your license plate amounts to a traffic violation, you would be right to assume the police are missing an opportunity to collect a hefty sum in fines levied against perpetrators. Since speed cameras are effectively rendered useless in the face of 30% of vehicles carrying plates that are unrecognisable, there again is huge loss in revenue.

Well then, what to do? What to do?

Here’s an idea: Police checks and road blocks are common enough; fines are given out for driving without a seat belt, no helmet, no insurance, improper registration or lack of a driving license, etc. So why not for license plates that are illegible, modified, or intentionally disguised?

What about a public reporting system that allows citizens to photograph a plate and send it directly to the police? Officers could issue fines from the comfort of their desks.

Before long, the practice of “hiding in plain sight” would lose its appeal. Instead of becoming more popular, it would diminish, possibly even stop altogether.

At the end of day, one has to ask: What is the purpose of a license plate if it cannot be read?

What's the use of number plates if you can't read them? | News by The Thaiger What's the use of number plates if you can't read them? | News by The Thaiger

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Opinion

The 35 billion baht white elephant – Phuket’s light rail

Tim Newton

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The 35 billion baht white elephant – Phuket’s light rail | The Thaiger

“About the only thing feasible in this rendering is the blue sky.”

Spending 35 billion baht on infrastructure that few will use, is planned on the least useful route and will cause mayhem for a 3-5 year build time is a waste of money.

The Mass Rapid Transit Authority of Thailand (MRTA) is currently chatting to the private sector and local administrative bodies to support Phuket’s planned light-rail/tram project.

Firstly, where will it travel?

The tram route plans to run from Tha Noon in Phang Nga province, across Sarasin Bridge onto Phuket, past the airport, through Phuket Town on the east coast and then finishing at Chalong’s main intersection near the Chalong Circle.

Phuket’s tourists, who mainly head for the west coast beaches, are being almost completely ignored in the planning.

Oh, but the tram will travel from the airport to Phuket Town (where less than 5% of Phuket’s tourists stay). That route is already well connected with Airport and private buses – the least of Phuket’s transport woes.

The two-way tram will be constructed right in the middle of existing, already busy, roads – principally Thepkasattri road from the island’s north to Phuket Town. Then in the middle of the equally busy Chao Fah East road which, mostly, doesn’t already have a centre-strip.

The MRTA expects to seek cabinet approval for the project in the middle of this year with construction likely to begin in 2020. They estimate it will be operational by 2023 (code for ‘maybe before 2025’).

At this stage, the MRTA estimates fares will be no more than 100 – 137 baht, less for shorter hops between the 21 proposed stations. This already puts the cost of daily use for many local Thais out of reach. If it costs about 80 baht to fill an average 110cc scooter which would last most of the week – you do the maths.

Then the locals will still have to use public transport, or their feet, to get to and from the nearest tram stop.

Here are four key problems with the whole idea…

The tram stops avoid most of the tourist hot spots along the west coast of the island and concentrates on locals living along the main Thepkasattri trunk from Thalang to Phuket Town and then Chao Fah East to Chalong.

Patong? Kata? Karon? Surin? Mai Khao? Kamala? Nowhere near them. We acknowledge that a tram would never be a solution to get to people to and between these locations.

The second point is a glaring failure in the concept to measure popular and cheap services currently available – mostly the trusty and cheap motorbike.

Thai users are unlikely to give up their point-to-point motorcycle transport for a more inconvenient, and expensive, tram that will necessitate them using expensive taxis, buses and motorcycle taxis at either end to get them to their destinations.

Next, imagine the three year construction period which, if following recent major road construction projects, is likely to blow out to four or five years. And the massive disruption of traffic during the construction time. Ask anyone living in Chalong and Rawai about how the roadworks at the Chalong circle has affected their lives in the past three years. It’s been chaotic, time-wasting, dangerous and stressful.

Finally, the loss of road space along the route will restrict local road traffic even more, neutralising any nett gains of the new tram system. Tram rails, in both directions, 21 stations, the overhead walkways (to get people to the sidewalk areas), parking… where is all this going to go? It will chew up limited road space and bring traffic and people even closer together – a recipe for disaster.

Phuket badly needs public transport reform. Recent infrastructure to improve roads, add underpasses and improve existing services has gone part of the way to making life better for locals and tourists.

But this new white elephant completely ignores the real elephant in the room – the intransigent cabal of the taxis and tuk tuks on the island which ‘could’ be the island’s best asset. But instead they are a feared, reviled and a much-discussed tourism killer.

Local people almost completely avoid taxis and tuk tuks (they already know their fares are ridiculously priced when compared to other parts of the country), and tourists use them because there’s not a lot of alternative only to end up with occasional horror stories in social media, complaints to the Tourist Police and a lasting impression of Phuket as an over-priced tourism pearl that’s lost its lustre.

Spending 35 billion baht (let’s spell that out for you – 35,000,000,000 baht) on a shiny new tram system does little, if nothing, to address the island’s key transport issues – better roads and better alternatives for transport in and around tourist zones.

Your comments are welcome on our Facebook page.

The 35 billion baht white elephant - Phuket's light rail | News by The Thaiger

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Opinion

Opinion: Sovereignty, rights ignored in airport debacle – The Nation

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Opinion: Sovereignty, rights ignored in airport debacle – The Nation | The Thaiger

Thailand could have blood on its hands if it fails to protect a Saudi traveller on her journey to freedom.

The fate of a Saudi woman on her way to Australia, where she has a visa and seeks to obtain asylum, teetered in the balance in Bangkok at press time yesterday. Amid Thailand’s apparent willingness to deport her back to Saudi Arabia, rights lawyers representing her failed to get a Bangkok court to accept an injunction against her repatriation, which could have spelled her doom. Then came an abrupt about-face as the head of Immigration announced that, contrary to his earlier remarks, she would not be deported against her will.

Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun, 18, had barricaded herself in a hotel room near Suvarnabhumi Airport while Thai authorities fumbled over a case that could have grave repercussions for our country. She believed she would be killed if Thailand sent her back to Saudi Arabia, where her family has allegedly subjected her to physical and psychological abuse.

According to reports late Sunday, Saudi and Kuwaiti officials seized her as she deplaned at Suvarnabhumi and forcibly confiscated her travel documents. New York-based Human Rights Watch has backed up her claims, though its sources are unclear.

“They took my passport,” al-Qunun was quoted as saying by news agency AFP, adding that her male guardian had filed a complaint in Saudi Arabia that was she was travelling “without his permission”, as Saudi law requires of women.

“My family locked me in a room for six months just for cutting my hair,” she said.

“I’m 100 per cent sure they will kill me as soon as I get out of the Saudi jail.”

Thai Immigration chief Surachate Hakparn first told reporters that Qunun was barred from entering Thailand because “she had no other documents such as return airfare or money”.

She insisted she had valid travel papers and was merely in transit through Bangkok en route to Australia, for which she had a visa.

Human Rights Watch was appalled by Thai Immigration’s apparent readiness to accommodate the Saudi authorities. “What country allows diplomats to wander around the closed section of the airport and seize the passports of passengers?” deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson asked, pointing out Saudi Arabia’s horrendous record on rights.

It will indeed be encouraging if the Thai government takes a firm stand in the matter after foreigners overtly trampled our sovereignty. Diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia have gradually improved since the ruinous affair of a Thai stealing gems from the Saudi royal family more than two decades ago. We owe the Saudis nothing. If there is even the slightest possibility that this woman’s life is in danger, Thailand must oppose her repatriation.

The incident comes just three months after Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi who was critical of his country’s rulers, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Turkey. That case has roiled international opinion.

Thailand cannot afford to be at the centre of another such controversy, even if this one has a far lower profile. But there was Surachate early yesterday saying al-Qunun would soon be on a plane bound for Saudi Arabia.

“It’s a family problem,” he said, sounding devoid of compassion. Surachate appeared not to have heard – or not to care – that a member of her family vowed on record that Qunun would indeed be severely punished on her return, possibly even killed.

This is decidedly not a “family problem”. It is a direct threat to the same fundamental human rights that Thailand has sworn to protect, even if Saudi Arabia does not extend such rights to women.

Al-Qunun has every right to flee harsh treatment at home and seek asylum in a country willing to protect her. Tragedy could ensue simply because, on her way to gaining freedom, she first touched down in Bangkok.

Published originally on The Nation

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