Monday, 03 July 2023 06:36

First Person: A Thai police trainer’s ‘passion’ for fighting the SE Asia drug trade

A police trainer in Thailand has told UN News about her “inspiration, passion, and strength” for teaching police cadets how to tackle the illicit trafficking of drugs and other contraband through her country and onwards through Southeast Asia.

The trainee police officers are part of a network of law enforcement specialists in Thailand, but also across the region, who are cooperating across borders to stem trafficking operations by international crime syndicates.

They are collaborating under the border liaison office (BLO) network, supported by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Lt. Colonel Amonrat Wathanakhosit is based at the Thai Police Training Centre Region 5 in northern Thailand.

“I’m currently working with trainees at a police checkpoint on Highway 1 approximately 40 kilometres south of the Thai-Myanmar border in the far north of Thailand. There is a continual circulation of traffic from and towards the border area, including private and commercial vehicles as well as public transport.

This checkpoint is here in order to try and slow the flow of drugs like methamphetamine from Myanmar to the north through Thailand and on to other countries in the region. In a way this is work which is saving our country from the danger of drugs.

This is hands-on work. The students are stopping and searching vehicles by one by one. They are not using any technology, but just their knowledge of trafficking and their commitment to serving and protecting their communities.

UN News/Daniel Dickinson
Police officers carry out security checks at a roadblock in northern Thailand.

Intercepting drugs

They choose drivers randomly to question and then gauge the behaviour of the person to come to a decision as to whether they may be concealing drugs. Little by little these trainees are becoming more confident and thus more effective at their jobs and are able to support colleagues from other law enforcement agencies to intercept the drugs. Recently, we have had a great deal of success seizing methamphetamine pills.

If drivers are suspected of being under the influence of drugs, then they can also be tested here, after they provide a urine sample.

UNODC has supported the training programme, which provides trainees with useful insights into spotting suspect vehicles and other abnormal activity.

The training has been very successful, and I think in the future we could even train officers from neighbouring Myanmar and Laos. I think this type of cross-border collaboration would allow for joint operations to stop the manufacturing and trafficking of drugs.

Individuals suspected of taking drugs can be tested at roadside facilities set up by law enforcement agencies.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson
Individuals suspected of taking drugs can be tested at roadside facilities set up by law enforcement agencies.

Excessive production of methamphetamine

One of the biggest challenges we face is having enough officers working at these checkpoints to counter the excessive production of methamphetamine. These officers have other duties and responsibilities and so do not spend their whole interdicting drugs.

Nevertheless, the training work that I am involved with is my inspiration, passion, and strength. It’s not hard work for me. I’m grateful to have the continued support of the Office of Narcotics Control Board and UNODC.

My son is 18 years old and a university student, and I tell him about the bad guys that I come across in my work and the danger of narcotics, how they can destroy people and societies. He understands that my job is trying to stop drugs.”

A police officer questions passengers on a bus travelling from the north of Thailand.
UN News/Daniel Dickinson
A police officer questions passengers on a bus travelling from the north of Thailand.

Quick facts on border liaison offices (BLOs)

  • Some 120 BLOs have been established across Southeast Asia.
  • BLOs are established in pairs – on either side of an international border crossing.
  • BLOs address myriad cross-border issues, including drug and precursor chemical trafficking, migrant smuggling, human trafficking, wildlife and forestry crime, and, in some locations, the movement of terrorist fighters alongside public health and pandemic-related matters.
  • The BLO network works to enhance relationships between the law enforcement and border communities, community policing efforts, and the role and leadership of women in law enforcement agencies.