Thai PM announces crackdown on drugs in wake of nursery attack

Attack that left 37 dead was carried out by former police officer dismissed from the force for methamphetamine possession

The Thai prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, has ordered a clampdown on drugs, including an emphasis on rehabilitation, following the mass shooting and stabbing at a nursery in north-eastern Thailand that left 37 people dead, mostly young children.

The unprecedented attack has shaken Thailand, where mass killings are rare, and prompted calls for a tougher stance on drugs. It was carried out by a former police officer, identified by police as Panya Khamrab, who had been dismissed from the force for methamphetamine possession.

On Monday, the government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri said in a statement that Prayuth had ordered the police to urgently crack down on illegal drugs and to bring users to receive treatment.

“[Prayuth] ordered provincial governors to strengthen drug prevention plans to tackle problems in their areas,” the statement said, adding the government had always taken drug eradication seriously.

The opposition Pheu Thai party has said it is preparing to open an extraordinary session of the House of Representatives after the nursery killing. The party – founded by loyalists of the exiled former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose infamous drugs crackdowns were strongly condemned by rights groups and left an estimated 2,500 dead – has criticised the current government for not doing enough to tackle drugs.

The Pheu Thai leader, Cholnan Srikaew, has promised a “war on drugs” if the party wins next year’s elections, including stronger prevention and rehabilitation.

An autopsy indicated that Panya had not taken drugs in the 72 hours prior to the attack. However he had appeared in court over drug charges a few hours beforehand, and was due to appear again the following day. His mother told local media he was in debt and had drug addiction problems.

Supplies of methamphetamine have grown rapidly across south-east Asia over recent years. A recent UN report said the price of tablet and crystal methamphetamine had fallen to all-time lows as supplies had surged. According to local reports, a tablet costs 10 baht (£0.24) for wholesale, not much more than a bottle of water. The street price for the pills is between 20 and 25 baht.

More than a billion methamphetamine tablets were seized in east and south-east Asia in 2021 – seven times higher than 10 years ago. Analysts say the cartels, whose production is centred in south-east Asia’s Golden Triangle along the borders between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, continue to thrive despite police raids.

Statistics quoted by local news show that in 2021, the authorities seized 272m methamphetamine tablets; 8,691kg of crystal methamphetamine; and 484kg of heroin. During the same period, 144,110 people were arrested over drug-related offences.

Cholnan also called for a review of gun legislation. Mass shootings are rare in Thailand, though in 2020 a soldier opened fire at an army base and shopping mall, killing at least 29 people, an unprecedented incident that prompted a debate over firearm ownership, rates of which are high in Thailand. Similar questions have re-emerged after the nursery attack.

Possession of an illegal firearm can lead to a prison sentence of up to 10 years and/or a fine of up to 20,000 baht (£480), though unregistered guns remain prevalent due to poor enforcement.

Thailand had about 10m privately owned firearms in 2016, according to Gunpolicy.org. This included about 4m firearms that were illegal and unregistered. The firearms used in the nursery attack had been obtained legally.

Contributor

Rebecca Ratcliffe, south-east Asia correspondent, and Navaon Siradapuvadol

The GuardianTramp

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