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Phuket Gazette World News: In lair of Mexico drug boss, vigilantes hold sway

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– World news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

In lair of Mexico drug boss, vigilantes hold sway
Reuters / Phuket Gazette
PHUKET: His AK-47 tossed onto a pristine leather sofa in the plush lair of a leader of one of Mexico’s most feared drug cartels, vigilante fighter “El Love” says he is longing for an end to a grinding cycle of extortion and murder.

Channel-surfing on a plasma TV abandoned by the drug lord fleeing a revolt by farmers fed up with organized crime, the 43-year-old El Love has taken charge of the property, symbolizing a victory over the Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar.

The Knights Templar pose the biggest security challenge yet for President Enrique Pena Nieto, by taking a firm grip on large areas of Michoacan, an impoverished agricultural state which is also home to Mexico’s biggest cargo port.

For now though, heavily armed vigilante groups have struck back, occupying much of the Knights’ heartland with federal forces standing by – raising questions about how the government will restore order in a state that has been lawless for years.

The presence of the vigilantes alongside hundreds of federal police and soldiers is almost as incongruous as the spacious seven bedroom home of the departed Knights Templar leader.

Alongside a grime-laden mechanic’s shop and an abandoned-looking building on a main thoroughfare in the town of Nueva Italia, the lair is hidden behind the facade of a shuttered warehouse filled with cement and building equipment.

Inside, its bedrooms are decked out with a large dressing room, an ante-chamber and flat-screen television.

A swimming pool, bar and fountains are out back. And columns on the terrace are decorated with mirrors that look like disco balls.

“They’re just people who extort and kill, and they live like kings. Just look at this!” El Love said, refusing to give his real name for fear of reprisals from the Knights Templar.

“If they come back, I’ll kill them,” he said. And just in case they do, El Love has 500 rounds of ammunition at hand.

Behind him, a gleaming new kitchen, decorative ornaments and a cluster of checkbooks with stubs detailing payments into thousands of dollars. In the sprawling bedrooms are stacks of empty Louis Vuitton boxes and Chanel and Gucci bags. On a bedside table, there is a box of condoms and a radio scanner.

And in the fridge, a bottle of Moet champagne.

A jacuzzi can be seen through the doorway of a giant dressing room. On one shelf sits a bottle containing a mix of alcohol and marijuana, a traditional remedy for aches and pains in Michoacan.

“They left in a hurry,” El Love said, pointing to goldfish in a shallow water-filled channel along one of the walls.

Fronted by a former schoolteacher, the Knights Templar is a cult-like group that styles itself on the medieval military order that protected Christian pilgrims during the Crusades.

In the home the vigilantes said belonged to one of the gang’s top bosses, a Bible sits on the dining table, and on a shelf is a photo of the late Pope John Paul II.

“We’re going to turn it into a home for kids or something. Just let the narcos try to come back!” said Charlie, a senior vigilante who was badly hurt along with vigilante leader Jose Mireles when a plane crash-landed earlier this month.

The vigilantes say they have amassed weapons and vehicles left behind by the fleeing drug gang members. On Thursday, the vigilantes returned to the original owners the deeds to farm land grabbed by the Knights Templar.

Fragile calm

The Knights Templar have defied the government, putting out videos on the Internet and accusing the vigilantes of being infiltrated by other criminal gangs moving into Michoacan.

Vigilantes claiming to number in the thousands, a rag-tag band of lime farmers and others with some military training, crew-cuts and sophisticated weapons, have taken the fight to organized crime and put the Knights on the run.

The vigilantes have fought pitched battles with the Knights in Nueva Italia in recent weeks. Workmen on Thursday filled in walls pock-marked with bullet holes in one neighborhood, where the walls of a school also bore the marks of bullets.

The vigilantes, or “self-defence groups”, have snubbed a government order to stand down and disarm. Instead, they operate openly, manning roadblocks and patrolling unopposed as heavily armed troops and state police drive by, turning a blind eye.

They have cast a spotlight’s glare on Pena Nieto’s security strategy. The president has spent the past year pushing economic reforms aimed at boosting the economy, and seeking to keep the focus off the violence that has claimed over 80,000 lives since 2007.

A convoy of hundreds of federal police and troops on Tuesday moved into the Knights Templar stronghold of Apatzingan, but sporadic attacks have continued.

Gunmen have burned shops and sprayed the state attorney general’s offices with bullets. However, on Thursday, shops reopened under the watch of soldiers and federal police.

After years of raging violence and abortive government attempts to take control, some residents fear a backlash.

“I don’t think things are calm,” said Maria de Jesus Torres Blanco, as she served soft drinks at a stall in the main square in Nueva Italia. “When this lot have gone, there will be reprisals. I think this is a time-bomb waiting to explode.”

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Drugs

Police seize 920 kilograms of cannabis smuggled across the Mekong River

Caitlin Ashworth

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Police seize 920 kilograms of cannabis smuggled across the Mekong River | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Thairath

In a major bust on the Mekong River, notorious for drug smuggling, border patrol police seized 920 kilograms of dried, compacted cannabis from a boat along the Nakhon Pathom riverbank, bordering Laos.

Police were tipped off about a large shipment of drugs being trafficked across the Thai-Laos border. Police spotted a boat around 4am yesterday. When police moved in, men onboard the boat jumped onto a smaller boat and sped off. Police found 23 sacks filled with 1-kilogram packages of compressed cannabis.

Police seize 920 kilograms of cannabis smuggled across the Mekong River | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: MGR Online

In the recent months, police have seized more than 5 tonnes of cannabis. While the Thai government has been loosening measures on cannabis, allowing parts of the plant with low traces of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, to be used in food and medicinal products, trafficking cannabis is still illegal. Cannabis with high amounts of THC is still classified as a Category 5 narcotic.

SOURCE:Bangkok Post

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Thailand

Thai FDA expedites the process to list cannabis as an “essential medicine”

Caitlin Ashworth

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Thai FDA expedites the process to list cannabis as an “essential medicine” | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Healthserv.net

Cannabis could soon become an “essential medicine” in Thailand. While the plant’s euphoria-inducing buds are still illegal and classified as a narcotic, other parts of the plant that do not cause a “high,” like the leaves, are being pushed into the food and medicine industry.

The Thai Food and Drug Administration is even trying to speed up the process to include cannabis on the National List of Essential Medicines and to also allow it to be used in food, according to the FDA secretary general Supattra Boonserm. Yesterday, the FDA committee approved a draft ordinance to allow the once-criminalised plant to be on the essential medicines list as well as to be an ingredient in food.

“Users can put oil extracts from cannabis in breakfast cereals, bakery products, beverages, snacks or butter as well as in food supplements.”

There are 2 main components in cannabis: tetrahydrocannabinol, known as THC, and cannabidiol, known as CBD. THC is the psychoactive component which causes the “happy-hungry high” while CBD is understood to have health benefits and has been used to treat anxiety and insomnia. THC is still illegal in Thailand.

Since the Public Health Ministry approved the use of cannabis and hemp for medical and research purposes, more than 50,000 patients in Thailand have been prescribed cannabis-based treatments, according to Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul.

Anutin says the FDA’s move to expedite the process of listing cannabis as an essential medicine is intended to make sure there is a sustainable supply of cannabis and the products are available to those who need it.

“The efficacy and safety of medical cannabis will continue to be reviewed, and the findings will be used to support further changes to medical cannabis laws.”

The health minister spoke at the official opening of the Ministry’s Institute of Medical Cannabis, which will be the coordinating agency to make sure cannabis-based products are in line with government policies.

“The institute will also provide accurate information about the plants and their use, as public interest in the plants have grown.”

More than 300 community enterprises have joined with the ministry to grow cannabis for medical and research purposes, Anutin said. He adds that households with permission from a local hospital can grow up to 6 cannabis plants on the property.

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

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Cannabis

Thai government hopes cannabis will be a primary cash crop for farmers

Caitlin Ashworth

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Thai government hopes cannabis will be a primary cash crop for farmers | The Thaiger

While marijuana traffickers are still getting busted by police, many smuggling the plant across the Mekong River, the Thai government is encouraging local farmers to grow cannabis, as long as they partner with a provincial hospital to use the plant for medicinal purposes. A deputy government spokesperson told Reuters the government hopes that cannabis and hemp will be a “primary cash crop for farmers.”

Late last year, Thailand removed certain parts of cannabis off the narcotics list. Parts of the plant with high amounts of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, are still classified as a Category 5 narcotic.

So far, 2,500 households in Thailand and 251 provincial hospitals have legally grown 15,000 cannabis plants, according to deputy government spokesperson Traisulee Traisoranakul. She says those interested in growing cannabis have to seek approval from authorities. Universities, community enterprises and those in the medical industry can obtain licenses to grow cannabis.

“Everybody has the right to grow marijuana by partnering up with provincial hospitals for medical use.”

With the declassification of certain cannabis parts, the plant can be used in food and beverages at restaurants. Over the past few months, some cafes and restaurants have started to offer dishes made with cannabis leaves. Traisulee says cannabis used in food ends to come from an approved producer. She says the Medical Marijuana Institute will hold information sessions next month.

SOURCE: Reuters

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