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Last Updated:  Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 11:45 GMT
Thai PM says officials peddling drugs
A Thai policeman stands next to a haul of methamphetamine haul in Ayutthaya province
Thai police are accused of operating outside the law
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has accused over 700 government officials of being involved with drugs trafficking.

Mr Thaksin said the suspects included police and army officers, education and health ministry officials, village leaders and local administrators.

He was speaking as controversy mounted over his latest drugs crackdown, after the Thai interior ministry announced that the death toll since the campaign began on 1 February had risen to nearly 600.

The ministry's figure was at odds with figures from the police, which said only 319 people had been killed.

The crackdown has prompted human rights groups to accuse the police of operating a "shoot to kill" policy, although the ministry said that nearly all the dead had been killed in inter-gang shoot-outs, and police were only responsible for eight deaths, all in self-defence.

Mr Thaksin said some officials implicated in trafficking had already been sacked and that several police officials who had been obstructing investigations had been transferred.

Public support

Mr Thaksin promised to take 'decisive action' on provincial governors who had failed to take sufficient action on the war on drugs.

But critics say that this could pressure local police officials to take action against innocent people.

Mr Thaksin promised a war on drugs when he was elected in 2001.

His latest campaign is thought to have wide support among the public, as Thais are desperate to tackle the high rate of methamphetamine addiction in Thailand.

So far police say that they have confiscated over 6 million methamphetamine tablets and arrested over 15,000 people since the latest campaign started.

There are thought to be up to three million methamphetamine addicts in Thailand, which is known locally as "ya-ba".

Police officials say that they are already seeing the results of the crackdown as it has driven up the price of a methamphetamine pill from 80 baht ($1.86) to 300 baht ($7).



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