AN altercation between Thailand’s armed forces and a group of drug smugglers who operate primarily within the “Golden Triangle” has left nine of the latter dead, a senior official confirmed on Sunday.
Northern Chiang Rai province governor Narongsak Osotthanakorn told AFP (as published by the Straits Times) the fight began in Thailand, about 2km from the border to Burma (Myanmar)
He said there were 15 drug smugglers, whom authorities told to halt, but they refused and started shooting.
“The two sides exchanged fire for about 10 minutes, killing nine smugglers while the rest fled.”
He said the Thai force found about 700,000 methamphetamine tablets, along with semi-automatic rifles.
The “Golden Triangle” refers to the region that borders the mountain ranges of Burma, Laos, and Thailand, and is known as one of Asia’s main opium-producing areas. It is also the world’s second-largest opium-producing area, after Latin America.
Opium production in the area and the business surrounding the drug trade tripled in 2015 from 2006, according to a UN report. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimated then cultivation of opium poppies had risen by more than 2,000ha between 2013 and 2015.
Much of the product from this cultivation ended up in Burma’s Shan state. Although opium poppy cultivation fell by 86 percent between 1998 and 2006 due to nationwide eradication efforts, demands from the region as well as the growers’ lack of other business options have given the business second wind.
Thailand’s Mae Sai district, where the gunfight took place, is teetering on the border of the Shan state. For years, Thailand has been the preferred trafficking zone of drug smugglers because looser borders and a growing network of roads make it easier to evade police, according to a 2009 New York Times report.