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Thailand: 7 Men Drowned in Reservoir Near Myanmar Border, Autopsy Finds

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2020-03-12
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Thai troops in Chiang Rai province confiscated sacks containing "yaba" pills after a clash with suspected drug traffickers, Feb. 5, 2020.
Thai troops in Chiang Rai province confiscated sacks containing "yaba" pills after a clash with suspected drug traffickers, Feb. 5, 2020.
Courtesy Royal Thai Army

An official autopsy has determined that seven men, whose bodies were found floating in a reservoir under military control near Thailand’s border with Myanmar last month, all died of drowning, a police investigator said Thursday.

The bodies were discovered in Mae Sae, a district of northern Chiang Mai that is known for being rife with drug smuggling across the Thai-Myanmar frontier. On Thursday, Chiang Rai Hospital officials released the autopsy report to the investigator, Lt. Col. Surapol Petchpisitpong, who is assigned to the Ko Chang police station.

“The doctors concluded that the cause of death was drowning. There were no gunshot wounds or physical injuries,” Surapol told BenarNews by phone. Chiang Rai province is about 880 km (546 miles) north of Bangkok.

Surapol said the autopsy confirmed his preliminary investigation after the bodies were discovered on Feb. 27. He reported seeing no signs of gunshot wounds or of physical struggles that could have led to the drownings.

Soldiers in Mae Sae said they had exchanged gunfire with about 20 suspected drugs traffickers near the frontier on Feb. 24, leading to speculation that the seven corpses found three days later could have been members of that group, according to media reports at the time.

Surapol said only one of the victims could be identified, adding he could not determine how the victims ended up in the reservoir or if they were involved in the gunfight three days earlier.

“We know one of them was a Myanmar citizen because he had an I.D., but the others didn’t. The rest are likely from Myanmar as well,” he said without naming the victim.

After the Feb. 24 clash, soldiers reported finding and confiscating more than 2 million “yaba” pills which contained a mixture of methamphetamine and caffeine and 14 kg (30 lbs.) of crystal methamphetamine. The drugs were valued at 2 million baht (U.S. $63,000), according to the Associated Press.

Soon after the bodies were pulled from the reservoir, a deputy police spokesman, Col. Kissana Phatanacharoen, said an initial investigation led police to suspect that the seven had crossed into Thailand from a neighboring country because they had no Thai I.D. cards on them, the Bangkok Post quoted him as saying.

The reservoir is about one kilometer (six-tenths of a mile) from the border where the Ruak River divides Myanmar and Thailand. The reservoir is open to the public but the area is overseen by troops from three local military outposts, Surapol said.

“We announced the discovery in the villages to see if anyone would come to claim the bodies, but no one did,” he said, adding that the seven bodies would be buried in the province.

BenarNews could not immediately reach regional military officials for comment on the autopsy findings.

Chiang Rai is part of the Golden Triangle with Myanmar and Laos, a tri-border region notorious for drugs production and distribution. In 2017, BenarNews reported that methamphetamine had overtaken opium and heroin as the most produced drug in the region.

Last month, military troops in Wiang Pa Pao, another district of Chiang Rai, reported seizing 1 million yaba pills following a Feb. 5 clash with drug traffickers. Officials said no one was injured on either side.

Meanwhile on Thursday, officers at the Mae Fah Luang police station reported that a corpse stuffed in an oil drum had been pulled from another reservoir in Chiang Rai province, according to local media.

Villagers said they saw the drum floating in the reservoir about 12 km (7.5 miles) from the border with Myanmar for more than a week, the Chiang Rai Times reported. Teens pulled the drum from the water and found the body along with drug paraphernalia, it added.

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