The Bangkok arrest of an alleged Laotian kingpin of a major Southeast Asian drug trafficking ring helped expose links between narcotics smuggling operations on both sides of the Thailand-Malaysia border and an insurgency in the Thai Deep South, officials said.
Following the Jan. 19 arrest of Xaysana Keopimpha – a Lao dubbed as the “ASEAN drug lord” in news reports – and the subsequent arrests of about a dozen alleged drug traffickers with the aid of Malaysia, Thai officials said that some of the suspects were possibly helping finance southern insurgents directly or indirectly.
The deputy defense minister who is in charge of the Thai junta’s efforts to solve the decades-old separatist conflict in the Deep South said insurgents and drug traders may have converged.
“Officials involved see it is possible that the insurgents benefit from such illegal activities, therefore we need to focus on this issue as it is vital,” Gen. Udomdej Sitabutr told BenarNews on Friday at a military base in Pattani, one of the provinces in the troubled far southern region.
“It is possible for drugs cartels to make money and provide insurgents with funds and materials to conduct attacks.”
Drugs are an integral part of the troubles in the region, and local gang leaders and even some local politicians provide insurgents with funds and sanctuary, said Lt. Gen. Nanthadej Meksawat, a security expert and retired Thai army officer who spent several years in military intelligence in the Deep South.
Given its proximity to the Malaysian border, the restive region is awash in criminal activity and drug-smuggling, apart from the insurgency, local sources said.
According to a senior military official stationed in the region, around “one-fifth” of the nearly 7,000 people who have been killed in violence in the Deep South since 2004 were victims of drug-smuggling activity.
The situation in Deep South will ease when authorities cut the flow of money to insurgents, Nanthadej said.
“If the government can solve drugs problem, it half succeeds in solving Deep South troubles, simply because the insurgents would not be well-financed by drugs traders,” he told BenarNews in a phone interview.
Full story: BenarNews
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