Thailand Police, Judiciary -
Criminal Activity and the
Criminal Activity and the Narcotics Trade
The crime rate appeared to have risen throughout the 1970s and early
1980s--perhaps an inevitable by-product of a society changing under the
pressures of population increases and economic and social modernization. The
TNPD reports revealed increases in murder, assault, theft, armed robbery,
smuggling, and petty violations. The major share of these criminal activities
occurred in Bangkok and some of the larger towns in outlying areas. The high
incidence of theft by youthful gangs also caused the police considerable
In general, organized crime appeared to be rare, except for the illicit trade in
opium, heroin, and cannabis, which persisted in spite of ever-increasing
government efforts during the 1970s and 1980s to cope with a problem that had
not only serious domestic implications but also escalating international
repercussions. The drug trade had originated with the growing of poppies as a
traditional primary cash crop by hill tribes in the Thai section of the
notorious Golden Triangle--a mountainous border region including parts of Burma
and Laos. For many years peasant cultivators in this region produced a major
share of the world's opium.
According to estimates by the Thai government and international drug-control
agencies, the average crop year yielded from 500 to 1,000 tons of opium, which,
when processed in clandestine laboratories, produced from 50 to 100 tons of
heroin. An estimated one-half of each annual crop found its way into the world
market, destined primarily for addicts in Western Europe and the United States.
The other half supplied users in Thailand, Malaysia, and other Asian countries.
ln the late 1980s, it was believed that Thailand alone had roughly 500,000
addicts who depended on illicit supplies of opium and heroin. For years the Thai
government maintained that there were relatively few opium users among the
cultivators. But a medical survey, conducted in 1976-77 by health researchers
from Chulalongkorn University, indicated that the rate of addiction in 6 sample
villages varied from 6.6 to 16.8 percent of all inhabitants over the age of 10.
This survey and subsequent studies convinced the Thai leadership that
trafficking in illegal narcotics had become a domestic problem requiring action,
rather than a low-priority international problem.
The opium-heroin trade of the 1980s stemmed from a history of international
political machinations in the countries of and around the Golden Triangle--a
maze compounded in more recent times by increasing profitability. The hill
tribes grew the opium. Insurgents and separatists in Burma transported it.
Yunnan Chinese living in northern Thailand taxed it, and Chaozhou Chinese
(overseas Chinese living in Bangkok and Hong Kong) bought and exported it. Any
clear understanding of the complicated system requires careful study of the
region's ethnic and political hierarchy.
The Chinese appeared to have been heavily involved in the opium trade, but that
was mainly before the advent of Mao Zedong. The Yunnan Chinese who traded in
opium were a hodgepodge of private armies, including representatives of the
Guomindang (Kuomintang--KMT) forces that fled China at the time of the communist
takeover in the late 1940s. The rebel Chinese bands in the Golden Triangle were
the remnants of the KMT who were unable to escape to Taiwan but instead sought
refuge in Burma. Over the intervening years their fanatical anticommunist
attitude kept them active in southern China as well as in Burma, Laos, and
northern Thailand. For many years their fierce independence and swashbuckling
military courage was regarded by many Western governments as helpful in stemming
communism in Southeast Asia. That attitude, however, predated the international
heroin problem and the rapprochement between the West and China.
The Chaozhou Chinese (originally from Chaozhou District, Guangdong Province)
traced their roots in drug trafficking back to the days of organized crime in
Shanghai after China's defeat in the Opium War (1839-42). Operating their maze
of syndicates from Hong Kong, the Chaozhou Chinese had a virtual monopoly on the
illicit opium and heroin trade, and the technology they used in converting opium
to more easily transportable heroin was handed on to Chinese living in Thailand.
The syndicates' intricate system of international couriers operated within
Thailand to transport drugs both to local dealers and to the vast array of
Faced with increasing use of illicit drugs among young people in the United
States in the 1960s and a rising incidence of addiction among its servicemen in
Vietnam, the United States government focused on the flow of heroin from
Thailand. On September 28, 1971, the two governments signed a memorandum of
understanding, reaffirming their intention to cooperate with each other in
combating the illicit international traffic in dangerous drugs. Under the terms
of the accord, the Thai government agreed to step up its efforts to eliminate
poppy production and to control narcotics traffic within the country. The United
States agreed to provide support, such as training, equipment, advisory
assistance, and funds, to improve the effectiveness of the Thai programs. For
several years the cooperative efforts of the two governments produced limited
results, partly because certain corrupt senior Thai officials in the
bureaucracy, the army, and the police had personal interests in the drug trade.
By the 1980s, successive Thai governments had played an increasingly effective
role in the suppression and control of illicit drugs originating in Southeast
Asia. The agents of the Narcotics Suppression Center, established under the TNPD,
were highly regarded by foreign narcotics representatives for their efficiency
and incorruptibility. Personnel of the Provincial Police and the BPP received
training in narcotics work, and new equipment--including helicopters--had been
procured to aid in aerial surveillance. Coordination between the TNPD
specialists and Interpol provided the Thai with valuable information and
suggestions from the police representatives of countries such as Canada, France,
Britain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United States as well as the
metropolitan police of Hong Kong. Many foreign governments, including the United
States, assigned professional narcotics specialists to their embassies in
Bangkok to work with the Thai government on the illicit drug problem.
Thai citizens, threatened by the problems stemming from drug abuse in their
country, strongly supported such measures as preventive education, treatment,
and rehabilitation. In addition, tough amendments were added to the Criminal
Code to deter those trafficking in narcotics. Legislation passed in March 1979
mandated the death penalty or life imprisonment for persons convicted of
possessing, manufacturing, or transporting more than 100 grams of heroin.
Despite limited success in the legal and enforcement areas of antinarcotics
programs, the Thai government and its foreign advisers believed that the most
logical long-term solution lay in persuading the opium-growing hill people to
abandon their traditional crop and switch instead to other cash crops, such as
coffee, beans, tea, and tobacco. This effort received aid from the United
Nations, which started a pilot project along these lines in 1973. The United
States provided funds to assist in the development of a highland marketing
system for the hill tribes' produce and for a system of roads to provide growers
with easier access to lowland consumers.
During the 1980s, as the number of narcotics addicts in Thailand continued to
grow, the Thai government renewed its attention to narcotics eradication and
interdiction programs. These efforts received strong support from the United
States and other countries. Thailand and Burma, always suspicious neighbors,
increased cooperation in the effort to eliminate narcotics traffic along their
border. The two governments arranged for limited intelligence exchange on
narcotics refineries and trade routes along the border and also cooperated in
combined tactical missions against the narcotics traffic. Progress in the battle
against illicit narcotics was slow, partly because of the vested interests of
certain influential figures within Thailand. It was also difficult to combat the
problem because of the remote and rugged terrain and the international border.
Observers predicted drug traffic would continue for many years to come and might
never be completely eradicated.
Although an abundance of material exists concerning various aspects of national
security in Thailand, there are no definitive studies in English that provide
the entire picture. Readers interested in further details on the country's
insurgency problem may consult former United States Agency for International
Development officer Robert F. Zimmerman's succinct 1976 article, "Insurgency in
Thailand," and former United States special assistant for counterinsurgency
George K. Tanham's informative book Trial in Thailand. Hans U. Luther's
extensive article, "Peasants and State in Contemporary Thailand," provides an
informative explanation of the insurgency's socioeconomic basis. Thomas Lobe's
well-researched and provocative monograph, United States National Security
Policy and Aid to the Thailand Police, offers interesting exploration of the
myriad problems encountered in counterinsurgency efforts through the mid-1970s.
Moreover, a clear picture of the roles and activities of the kingdom's prime
internal security force is offered in Thomas Lobe and David Morell's chapter,
"Thailand's Border Patrol Police: Paramilitary Political Power," in
Supplementary Military Forces, edited by Louis A. Zurcher and Gwyn
Harries-Jenkins. An understanding of national security policy is greatly
assisted by the chapter on Thailand in Strategies of Survival by Charles E.
Morrison and Astri Suhrke. But no analysis of the national security situation,
using publicly available sources, would be possible without the extensive
coverage provided by the periodical Far Eastern Economic Review.
Library of Congress
Back to Articles about
Bangkok, Articles about Thailand
Malaysia Companies Directory |
China Companies Directory
Cambodia Companies Directory