'Shoot-to-kill' in Thai drugs war
BANGKOK, Thailand (CNN) -- Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has accused the Thai government of authorizing "a de-facto shoot-to-kill policy" in its latest crackdown on the illegal drugs trade.
It says the "highest levels" of the government have encouraged extra-judicial killings of anyone suspected of involvement in the drugs trade, resulting in the deaths of 600 people in just three weeks.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has loudly trumpeted the anti-drugs crusade, launched on February 1, pledging to rid the country of what he says is the greatest threat to Thai society.
Launching the crackdown -- which he has dubbed "an-eye-for-an-eye" -- Thaksin said individual police forces and regional officials would be graded on their performance.
He warned that those who did not deliver results could find their jobs on the line.
That has drawn condemnation from human rights groups and civil liberties campaigners who have accused the prime minister of overriding the rule of law and the right for fair trials in return for his own political gain.
In its statement Friday Amnesty said that after 10 years of improvements in Thailand's human rights record the effect of the anti-drugs war was to take "a big step backwards."
The group also took issue with official claims that only 15 of those killed in recent anti-drug raids were killed by police, and only then in self-defense from officers who believed their own lives were in danger.
The other deaths, police chiefs say, have been the result of inter-gang warfare.
However, Amnesty said that in several cases officials have by-passed standard police procedures in the event of a suspicious death.
"The authorities are not permitting pathologists to perform autopsies and bullets are reportedly being removed from the corpses," the group said.
It added that the government should initiate "independent, impartial, effective, and immediate investigations into the deaths so far."
The Thai government has issued a national list of about 46,000 suspected dug traffickers, many of them involved in the trade of methamphetamine pills -- a stimulant fast becoming the number one drug in Thailand.
Police say that to date they have arrested more than 15,000 suspected traffickers and seized six million methamphetamine pills.
On Thursday Interior Minister Wan Muhamad Noor Matha issued a warning to governors and senior civil servants in 23 provinces saying they had fallen behind official targets to remove at least one quarter of suspected traffickers from the streets by the end of February.
"If I find provincial governors who can't meet the government target, I will send someone else to replace them," he warned.
"We are fighting in a war and we have to fight hard to win it."
According to newspaper surveys many Thais say they are happy with the toughening of the government's anti-drugs stance with 80-90 percent of respondents saying they back Thaksin's campaign.