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EDITORIAL Hitting crime at the borders

Written By vibykhmer on Tuesday, August 25, 2009 | 7:08 AM


Bangkok Post

Published: 25/08/2009

Cooperation has steadily increased in recent years among the six nations that share the resources of the Mekong River. That is not to say that Thailand, China, Laos, Burma, Vietnam and Cambodia see eye-to-eye on every common problem. But the constant meetings, especially at rural and riverside locations, have steadily brought the six nations closer. Trade, transportation and other fields have prospered.

Now Thailand is pushing its five neighbours to set up a network of border monitors to stem the flow of illicit drugs. The only question is, what took so long?

Chief architect of this excellent plan is Krissana Pol-anand, secretary of the Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB). This is fitting. Over the past three decades, the major anti-drug targets by Thai police and officials has been in the area of the Mekong. Indeed, the Golden Triangle, arguably the world's most notorious centre of drug trafficking, lies where the mighty river separates Thailand from Burma and Laos.

From the time that the Thai government began to seriously tackle narcotics trafficking in the early 1970s, the Golden Triangle has figured in the effort.

During the worst years, the area - including Thai territory - was under the influence if not the actual control of drug warlords like Lo Hsing-han and his successor Khun Sa. Drug gangs controlled farmers, forcing them to grow opium for a pittance. The gangs bought protection in the three countries of the Triangle, sometimes high-ranking protection.

But even when the Thai army ran Khun Sa out of northern Thailand and back inside Burma, there was little cooperation among the six Mekong governments - if any. The generals who controlled Burma were believed at times to be in cahoots with the top drug lords of the heroin trade. China remained aloof, as did Vietnam. Cambodia considered it was not even involved in the problem.

Two major events occurred in the 1990s that changed all of that, hopefully forever. The first was the decision by the Burmese drug traffickers to begin producing and selling methamphetamines to neighbouring countries. This quickly became a bigger problem than the overall heroin trade. It involved China and Cambodia by enslaving their citizens, and by using their territories to smuggle and to sell both the old opiates and the new speed pills.

This occurred as the six Mekong riparian nations were finding that it was more productive to stress and seek common goals than to argue and bicker uselessly over disputes. The Mekong itself became recognised as a resource that must be shared. And while there are still many disagreements over the river, the common goals have brought the six nations into a formal union that embraces far wider goals.

One of these goals must be better cooperation against the international traffickers in drugs, people and illicit goods. Indeed, if anything, Mr Krissana's plan for a six-nation network of border posts deserves to be immediately expanded to cover all facets of international crime.

The plan envisions a literal network of border posts, constantly interacting with one another to share information on possible criminal activity. This is a hugely feasible project, given the state of advanced communications in all six countries. Computer, satellite and mobile phone networks already exist. These could be tapped and used in the proposal for a six-nation defence system. Cross-border crime of all kinds causes common security dangers. The Mekong Region countries should begin immediately to flesh out this excellent ONCB plan, and put it into operation as quickly as possible.

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