Drug traffickers arrested this month while smuggling crystal meth and heroin destined for Malaysia are linked to insurgents in Thailand’s Deep South, Thai authorities said this week.
Narcotics smugglers and separatist rebel groups in the far southern region that borders Malaysia have been involved in a long-term reciprocal relationship, Maj. Gen. Jatuporn Kalumpasut, commander of a task force in Pattani province, told BenarNews.
“We found links between drugs gangs and insurgents. We can confirm that they are connected and have a symbiotic relationship,” Jatuporn said.
On Monday, the Thai police’s Narcotics Suppression Bureau (NSB) announced that five drug busts nationwide had resulted in the arrests of 16 suspects during the past two weeks. Police also confiscated 9.8 million amphetamine pills, 450 kg (990 pounds) of crystal meth, 77 kg (170 pounds) of heroin, 1.654 kg (3.6 pounds) of cocaine and 706 kg (1550 pounds) of marijuana.
NSB officers said crystal meth and heroin were valued at 1 million baht (U.S. $30,000) per kilo, while methamphetamine is valued at 200 baht ($6) per pill.
Six suspects arrested with crystal meth and heroin allegedly were trying to smuggle the drugs into Malaysia through the border province of Narathiwat, according to police Maj. Gen. Kitti Sapaothong, the NSB’s southern province commander.
Three of the suspects, who allegedly acted as forward observers, were arrested at a highway checkpoint in Chumphon province. They later confessed that a truck transporting drugs was following them. NSB officers stopped the truck at a gas station close to Malaysian border, he said.
Police found the drugs hidden inside fertilizer sacks that were placed under a pile of PVC pipes, Kitti said.
“This syndicate uses GPS to monitor and communicate,” Kitti told reporters.
In Malaysia, Kang Chez Chiang, the deputy director of the national police’s narcotics department, said his officers were aware of the arrests on the Thai side of the border.
“We cannot expose our investigation and the information that we have on the connection between the smugglers and the southern Thailand group because they are watching our movements, so I do not want to jeopardize our operations,” he told BenarNews on Tuesday.
“But for us, of course, we have always cooperated with our counterparts in Thailand and, yes, there is a joint cooperation that is going on.”
Links go back years
Jatuporn, the head of the Pattani task force, said he had found evidence linking drug traffickers with insurgents as far back as five years ago.
“In 2013 we arrested a suspect in Sungai Kolok. He admitted that he paid protection money to insurgents to pass through the Deep South several times,” Jatuporn said, referring to a district of Narathiwat province that sits along Thailand’s border with Malaysia.
Drug dealers have hired militants to kill other drug dealers to make the deaths appear to be tied to the insurgency, he said.
“It happened in a prison as a drug convict met up with an insurgent inmate,” Jatuporn said. When they left prison, the drug convicts hired the insurgents to collect payments from other dealers or kill them if they refused to pay.
From Oct. 1, 2017, to July 23, 2018, Thailand arrested suspects in 1,705 cases, seizing assets valued at 134.53 million baht ($4 million), compared to 456 and 453 cases in the previous two years.
Meanwhile, Thailand’s predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking southern border region known as the Deep South has been wracked for decades by a separatist insurgency. Nearly 7,000 people have been killed in violence throughout the region since the insurgency re-ignited in 2004.
Hadi Azmi in Kuala Lumpur contributed to this report.