Thai police Monday announced the arrests in central and northern provinces of a dozen drug traffickers allegedly linked to a busted Lao kingpin’s network and the confiscation of methamphetamine and marijuana valued at about 312 million baht (U.S. $9 million).
The announcement of the arrests tied to efforts to traffic drugs to Malaysia and European countries came after reports surfaced that nine drug traffickers were killed in a weekend shootout with Thai soldiers near the Myanmar border. At a press conference in Bangkok, police officials did not comment on the reported shooting in northern Chiang Rai province because police were not involved in that incident.
Deputy National Police Chief Gen. Chalermkiat Sriworakhan told reporters that the arrests of the 12 unnamed suspects were an extension of “Operation Chaiya Sayop Pairee 1” in January, which resulted in the arrest of Xaysana Keopimpha – a Laotian citizen dubbed the “ASEAN drug lord.” Xaysana could face the death penalty if convicted. Police also did not reveal information about the suspects’ nationalities.
Maj. Gen. Thanai Apichartsenee, one of commanders with the Thai national police’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau, said all of the suspects were linked to Uzman Salamang, who is believed to be a close associate of Xaysana. Thai authorities placed a bounty of 2 million baht ($58,000) on Uzman, who fled to Laos in 2012, Sirinya Sitthichai, secretary general of the Thai Office of Narcotics Control Board, said earlier this year.
“We believe all of them are linked to the networks of Uzman Salamang. They have an aim to traffic the drugs to Hat Yai district of Songkhla province. However, we have to investigate further,” Thanai said Monday.
Chalermkiat announced that along with the arrests, police confiscated more than 1.5 million yaba (methamphetamine) pills and more than a ton of marijuana.
A yaba pill is priced at 200 baht ($5.75) and the marijuana at about 1,000 to 1,500 baht ($29 to $43) per kilo in the domestic market, according to a central investigation police who asked not to be named. The price would increase five to 10 times if it reached foreign markets such as Malaysia, Australia and European countries where much of it was destined to be sent.
Thanai said two of the suspects are former police officers who were fired because of their roles in pangolin smuggling from Malaysia. High demand for pangolin, an animal native to Africa, in some cultures that value its meat as a delicacy and use its scales in traditional medicine, fueled an international criminal trade that severely threatened its survival.
Lt. Gen. Sommai Kongvisaisuk, the head of the Narcotics Suppression Bureau, told reporters there were 400 million to 500 million yaba pills stockpiled on “the other sides of Thailand border.”
“I am losing sleep because of it,” he said.
Reports of shootout
Members of a Thai army ranger unit apparently killed nine traffickers in a shootout Saturday night in Chiang Rai province – a part of the notorious drug-producing Golden Triangle straddling Laos and Myanmar, officials said according to reports.
The commander of the 31st Ranger Regiment Task Force told the Thai Post that the shootout occurred at a pass along bamboo wilderness in Ban Pamee in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district.
On Sunday, Chiang Rai Gov. Narongsak Osotthanakhon went to the scene.
“Our security forces engaged and killed nine armed men. We learned that 15 smugglers crossed the line and we found 700,000 yaba pills,” Narongsak told Agence France-Presse.