INTRODUCTION: In Thailand, the government's war against narcotics has resulted in the arrest of more than 9,000 drug traffickers in the first ten months of last year, plus the seizure of nearly 15 tons (about 15,000 kilos) of drugs.
INTRODUCTION: In Thailand, the government's war against narcotics has resulted in the arrest of more than 9,000 drug traffickers in the first ten months of last year, plus the seizure of nearly 15 tons (about 15,000 kilos) of drugs. Thailand is believed to have replaced Hong Kong as the main distribution centre for heroin to Western Europe, and it is facing a serious addiction problem. According to one expert, it is easier to get heroin in Bangkok than a good lipstick.
SYNOPSIS: The hill tribes of the remote Golden Triangle area, where the Thai, Burmese and Laotian borders converge, are primarily responsible for the drug trade. From poppy plants like these they produce more than 500 tons of opium a year, and much of this is used to make heroin. Although the crop's illegal, it's essential for survival.
The problem is that the hill tribes don't know how to grow other crops. But in a few villages, like this one in northern Thailand, they've learned to replace the poppy. Life is simple in Maesamai village, but they have started a small handicraft industry as well as cultivating new crops under government guidance.
The weaving, sewing and other activities are a big step forward for these people and thousands like them, but it represents only a small inroad into the opium business.
Only 30 villages out of about 700 have accepted replacement crops. the Thai government's narcotics suppression programme was recently boosted by five United States helicopters for use against illegal drug transporters in remote regions.
The helicopters were given in November by U.S. Ambassador Charles Whitehouse. The helicopters, which are unarmed, join two similar aircraft which America gave to Thailand in 1974 for its anti-narcotics assistance programme.
The Thai government gets aid for its replacement crop scheme from the United Nations. The scheme also emphasises cattle raising, and the new farming methods have reaped welcome rewards at nearby markets. The replacement crops include wheat, kidney beans, marigolds, peaches and coffee, all of which are in demand. Two crops of kidney beans a year brings an income equivalent to that from opium growing, with the added benefit of being legal. The tribal opium growers are not punished for breaking the law because the authorities know they must give them an alternative livelihood before destroying the poppy fields. They also know that to stamp out the opium market without remedial action would bring the villagers under the influence of Communist insurgents.
Of the hundreds of tons of opium produced in the Golden Triangle, more than 80 per cent is believed to reach consumers in the United States, Europe and other non-Asian countries. If the government is successful in its crop replacement programme, it will almost cripple the illegal drug trade-from Thailand, anyway.