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Hill Tribe Killings, The Bangkok Post

The MA detox program offers safe treatment for drug addiction.

Hilltribe addicts die in forced 'detox camps'

Hilltribe Killings
Bangkok Post
Anucha Charoenpo
In their zeal to suppress drug trafficking,
authorities have resorted to torture and murder of
suspects, victims and relatives charge.
Ateh Amoh, an Akha man, said he was savagely beaten by
soldiers who took him and other Akha men,
mostly drug users, from their homes and held them at a
military camp.
There they beat them to extract a confession, he said.
His neighbour, Ajuuh Cheh Muuh Gooh, 42, died from the
The authorities denied any wrongdoing and said Mr
Ajuuh's death was caused by withdrawal
symptoms as a result of his attempt to end his opium
habit during a detoxification programme.
Mr Ateh, 34, said he was taken from his house in Ban
Mae Moh hilltribe village, Mae Fah Luang
district, by soldiers in the early morning of Dec 7.
His neighbour, the late Mr Ajuuh, was taken from the
same village the same day.
Three other Akha men, their names unknown, were taken
from nearby villages.
All of them had smoked opium for a long time and had
been suspected of drug trafficking.
Mr Ateh said the soldiers insisted he and Mr Ajuuh
join the opium detoxification programme at a
military camp near the village.
As soon they arrived at the camp, the soldiers pushed
them down a small hole in the ground where the
three other Akha men had already been detained.
The soldiers then poured water, coal and ashes into
the hole, leaving them to sit there for a whole day.
`The soldiers never said why they were treating us
like that. We doubted this was an opium
process,'' Mr Ateh said.
That night everyone was pulled from the hole, then
blindfolded and led off separately for questioning.
The soldiers asked him several times about his
supposed connection with drug traffickers in the
and he denied any involvement.
``The soldiers never talked about the opium
detoxification programme. They tried to force me to
the drug charges by electric shocks to my ears,
kicking my face and body, punching me hard in the  
body and hitting me with a gunhandle on my head and
chest several times.
``When they felt that I could no longer stand it
because my body was soaked with blood, they took me  
back to the hole and left me there for a night and a
day,'' he said.
He did not know about the other three men, but
believed their experience was probably not much  
On the second night, one of the Akha men was able to
escape from the hole while he and the others  
As soon as the soldiers found out they took the rest
for questioning, on suspicion of aiding the escape.
Mr Ateh said he was blindfolded and again beaten most
savagely that night. His neighbour Mr Ajuuh  
died from his injuries.
The soldiers told Mr Ajuuh 's family his death was the
result of going cold turkey as he attempted to  
break the opium habit.
``Ajuuh died while we were sitting together in the
hole. I heard him calling for his father and mother,  
and he talked about his children and wife.
``I saw him dying before my eyes and I was scared
almost to death myself,'' he said.
Mr Ajuuh died in the early morning of Dec 9.
The soldiers took his body, together with Mr Ateh and
the other two Akha men, to the nearby Mae Fah  
Luang hospital where they were released to the care of
Mr Ateh was kept in hospital for six days after
doctors found his lung was ruptured and bleeding  
The army did not pay his medical expenses.
Mr Ajuuh's wife, Apiew, 44, said the army gave her
family 7,000 baht in compensation for the death of  
her husband.
Mrs Apiew said the hospital had not confirmed her
husband's cause of death.
The hospital director, Dr Nongnuch Malin, refused to
disclose the autopsy result to the Bangkok Post,  
saying she needed more time.
``The army should not have killed my husband this
way,'' Mrs Apiew said.
``He was not involved in drug trafficking. If he was
really involved why didn't the army show evidence  
and take him to court? Although we are hilltribe
people we still have the right to the protection of
Lt-Col Apisit Nujbutsaba, who is responsible for the
detoxification programme in Mae Fah Luang  
district, denied he had sent soldiers to take the drug
addicts for detoxification.
He said Por Luang, the eldest villager, had taken them
to the camp.
He insisted Mr Ajuuh died in the process of trying to
break his opium addiction. He denied his  
soldiers had beaten Mr Ajuuh to death and injured
other Akha men.
The district chief, Chainarong Boonwiwatthanakarn,
said he knew of the matter and had advised Mr  
Ajuuh's wife to file a complaint with police.
The drug detoxification programme for hilltribe people
is jointly handled by the army, the Public  
Health Ministry, the police and the Interior Ministry.
It was launched in Chiang Rai on Oct 23 last  
The province required all drug addicts to voluntarily
register with village committees and join the  
Those who registered were safe from prosecution.
The programme was aimed at separating drug addicts
from dealers and traffickers. Mr Ajuuh is not the  
only case where the authorities are suspected of
having killed Akha villagers they suspected of  
On May 17 last year, Apha Wurh Zur, 56, was taken from
his house in Ban Mae Sam Lap village, in  
Mae Fah Luang district, and allegedly beaten to death
by police officers and another Akha man.
The police had allegedly accused him of involvement in
the drug trade. His wife Mee Shur, 56, denied  
the accusation and said police had demanded money from
her in exchange for her husband's release.
On Aug 9 last year, Logu Yeh Shaw, 30, was shot three
times by Mae Chan police officers and died.
He was accused of being a drug trafficker. The
shooting occurred in Bodu village.
His mother Byuabo Yeh Shaw, 70, denied her son was
involved in drugs.
These are just a few of the many suspicious deaths of
hilltribe people at the hands of the authorities in  
this northern province.
Most have never been properly investigated.
Bangkok Post Tuesday Jan 22, 2002 Front Page
Inquiry into hilltribe death in detox camp  
Army admits some addicts kept in holes  
Wassana Nanaum Subin Khuenkaew  
An army inquiry has been launched into allegations
that soldiers beat a hilltribe man to death at an
army-run drug detoxification centre in the North.
A senior army officer, meanwhile, insisted the death
of the Akha man was caused by his failure to quit
Army chief Gen Surayud Chulanont said he had ordered
Third Army chief Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasing to set
up an inquiry into allegations that hilltribe men at a
detoxification centre were maltreated and one of them
was beaten to death.
However, it was the duty of police to investigate,
gather evidence and establish the cause of the man's
death, he said. The Third Army was also instructed to
look into claims hilltribe drug addicts were detained
in underground holes and tortured.
He insisted it was not army policy to use violence
against highlanders during drug rehabilitation
``Though some hilltribe people are not Thais, the army
thinks everyone on Thai soil has equal rights and
good care. But it is difficult to combat drugs in
border areas.  
``As for the use of violence, it is not clear yet what
occurred, but such a thing should not happen,'' he
Col Surasak Boonsiri, commander of the Fourth Infantry
Regiment's special task force, admitted there had been
violence against highlanders who tried to escape.
However, the death of Ajuuh Cheh Mooh Gooh, an Akha
drug addict, was the result of the man's inability to
quit, he said.
Some army units lacked money to build proper cells for
drug inmates, so they dug holes to hold them.
Officers from the Third Army yesterday visited the
11th Cavalry Battalion's drug rehabilitation centre to
into the scandal.
Bangkok Post Front Page Wed. Jan 23, 2002
Army chief admits `mistakes'  
Probe launched into death of Akha man  
Wassana Nanuam  
Some soldiers were wrong in using violent means to
discipline hilltribe people involved in drugs and they
will be punished, army chief Gen Surayud Chulanont
said yesterday.
His remark followed a report that an Akha man had been
tortured to death during an army-run drug
detoxification programme in Chiang Rai early last
Gen Surayud said initial investigations found that
soldiers sometimes resorted to violence to deal with
hilltribe people involved in drugs in villages
bordering Burma.
Those soldiers would be punished and transferred, he
said. ``Absolutely, there have been mistakes,'' he
That was because inappropriate measures had been
applied in such detoxification programmes without
authorisation and reports to superiors, Gen Surayud
explained. They included the detention of drug addicts
in soil pits.
Inquiries have been launched at the levels of the
Third Army and the Pha Muang 1 Task Force. He said he
wanted to know all the facts behind such drug
rehabilitation courses in order to launch right
solutions. The inquiries will also look into the death
of the Akha drug addict, Ajuuh Cheh Mooh Gooh.
The army chief thanked the Bangkok Post for revealing
news of the maltreatment.
Officers blamed for deaths of Akha men  
Full inquiry pledged by Chiang Rai chief  
Anucha Charoenpo  
The provincial police chief yesterday vowed to look into allegations that police killed two hilltribe drug suspects in Mae Fa
Luang district last year.
Pol Maj-Gen Wut Withitanont said treating drug suspects in such a ruthless manner was unacceptable and barbaric.
He was referring to a report that Apha Wurh Zur, 56, an Akha drug suspect, was taken from his house in Mae Sam Laep village
on May 17 last year and beaten to death by police. Another Akha drug suspect, Logu Yeh Shaw, 30, was reportedly shot to
death by Mae Chan district police on Aug 9.
``We won't let the two cases fade away. An investigation would be conducted in secret after we receive details on them,'' he said.
Pol Maj-Gen Wut urged the damaged parties to file complaints with police, since no-one had done so following the incidents.
He said police found to have been involved would be subject to both criminal and disciplinary charges.
Earlier Gen Surayud Chulanont, the army chief, ordered a probe into reports that another Akha man, Ajuuh Cheh Mooh Gooh,
was beaten to death by soldiers during a forced detoxification programme.
Gen Surayud has admitted to ``mistakes'' by the military in their treatment of drug addicts and suspected traffickers in the past.
``Soldiers sometimes do resort to violence and they would be punished if evidence against them is found for having employed
such ruthless measures,'' Gen Surayud said.
Bangkok Post Jan 24, 2002
Opinion and Analysis
Inside Politics
A vital concern
Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasingh, commander of the 3rd Army based in the North, was apparently upset by a
Bangkok Post report on Monday accusing the army of culpability in the death of a highlander in Chiang Rai
while he was in army custody.
The commander received a call about the report from Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Surayud Chulanont
demanding a clarification.
The highlander, Ajuuh Cheh Muuh Gooh, died on Dec 9 while being held by the 4th Cavalry Regiment's
11th Battalion, which is responsible for securing the border with Burma in Chiang Rai.
Ajuuh Cheh, an alleged drug user and suspected trafficker, was taken from his village and held in detention at
an army outpost, where Akha men were forced into an opium detoxification programme. Ateh Amoh said the
army tortured Ajuuh Cheh to death. He is from the same village as Ajuuh Cheh and was also forcibly
subjected to the detox programme.
Lt-Col Apisith Nujbudsaba, the battalion commander, rejects the claim that his men had beaten Ajuuh Cheh to
death. He claims the villager simply died as a result of withdrawal symptoms experienced while undergoing
Whatever the circumstances, the death of the villager was not thought important enough to report to the 3rd
Army command. This is said to have angered Lt-Gen Udomchai as much as the newspaper report, and he is
said to have blasted his men at an urgently convened meeting at Gavila Camp in Chiang Rai on Tuesday.
"The [3rd Army] commander was very unhappy with this incident and has called for a thorough
investigation," said one of Lt-Gen Udomchai's lieutenants.
The aide said the abuse of of hilltribes people could not be allowed to continue _ because it would hurt the
3rd Army's efforts in the North and could be misinterpreted by the public.
The officer said Lt-Gen Udomchai would probably now position a new unit along the border in Chiang Rai
as this was just the latest complaint concerning the 11th Battalion.
The battalion, under the 4th Cavalry Regiment, answers directly to the 2nd Cavalry Division, which in turn
reports to Army HQ in Bangkok not to the 3rd Army and is in charge of security for all 16 northern
The 11th Battalion was transferred from Saraburi to Chiang Rai in October to replace a battalion from the 3rd
Army's 3rd Cavalry Regiment.
Bangkok Post Jan 25, 2002
Dealing with addicts takes special care  
The reported torture and murder of a number of Akha highlanders by soldiers and police, some while undergoing a supposedly
voluntary detoxification programme run by the army, has raised serious questions about both the drug suppression effort and the
way the authorities treat minority groups. How is it highlanders, even suspected drug traffickers, can be taken from their homes
in the middle of the night, thrown into a hole in the ground and beaten into making some sort of confession?
The latest incidents took place last month when five Akha tribesmen were allegedly taken from their villages in Chiang Rai to a
military camp where they were kept in a hole filled with water, coal and ashes. The villagers were periodically taken out for
interrogation when they were allegedly electrocuted, kicked, punched and hit with the butt of a gun in an effort to make them
confess to drug trafficking. One, Ajuuh Cheh Muuh Gooh, died at the camp. Relatives of other villagers say two other men died
earlier last year in similar circumstances, but at the hands of police.
Both the army and police have promised to investigate these allegations. Gen Surayud Chulanont, the army chief, has admitted
some soldiers had made ``mistakes'' by using violence against local people. The officer who ran the detox programme has
insisted that Ajuuh, a known user of opium, died from withdrawal symptoms even though death as a result of withdrawal from
opium addiction is unheard of. The real cause of death should be noted in the autopsy report but this has not been made public.
Gen Surayud must make sure there is no whitewash of the case. If Ajuuh died as a result of a beating he received at the hands of
soldiers, those involved must be tried for his murder to send the clear message that the army will not tolerate the use of such
dungeon measures. The police also cannot protect officers guilty of such wrongdoings.
The mistreatment of the highlanders begs a review of our drug suppression and rehabilitation methods. The authorities have to
make sure they are in keeping with judicial and moral principles. People cannot simply be taken from their homes. Forced
participation in drug rehabilitation programmes, particularly when not ordered by the courts, needs to be re-examined and
rigorously debated. It can be counter-productive, especially when detox centres are no better than concentration camps. Drug
users and addicts are not necessarily the same thing, and the authorities must learn the difference. If they pose no clear threat to
the public, those who use drugs should be left to seek rehabilitation of their own free will.
The wisdom of soldiers running rehabilitation programmes must also be rethought. Soldiers are not social workers and their
training does not afford them the time and patience to deal with the complexities of drug addiction. Military boot camps may
pull teenagers flirting with drug use into line but strongarm tactics with real addicts will most probably misfire. Dealing with
these people should be left to professionals.
But most importantly, all officials involved in drug activities must learn not to take the law into their own hands. They must
realise they cannot make simple moral judgments about who deserves to be ``sent to a fourth country'', a saying among soldiers
for sending drug traffickers to hell, or who is a burden on society. Otherwise those in charge could turn drug suppression into
general oppression. Nothing will be gained from this since the innocent will become victims. More rather than less social
problems will be the result.
Letters to the Editor
Bangkok Post Jan 25, 2002
Do away with force in treating addicts
Khun Kittipong Kittiyarak, director-general of the Probation Department, is quoted in the Post as saying the government wishes
to introduce legislation making treatment compulsory for the country's 80,000 drug addicts. Obviously, this would be better
than beating them to death, which is what allegedly happens when they fall into the gentle hands of army ``therapists''.
As former chief consultant and co-ordinator of planning for British Columbia's compulsory heroin treatment plan, I am familiar
with the pitfalls of compulsory treatment. For one, it is extremely difficult to determine if someone is addicted. Addiction
cannot be medically determined. To attempt to do so invites medical and other officials into a quagmire of moral, scientific and
legal issues.
The most troubling of these is whether or not anyone has the right to force anyone else to do anything. If an ``addict'' is shown
to be a threat to society, then let him or her be offered a choice: treatment or incarceration. If the ``addict'' is not a threat to
society, then leave him alone because he's not bothering anybody. Canadian courts were wise in eventually deciding that British
Columbia's compulsory heroin treatment plan was an excessive use of authority.
What should Thailand do? Thai social scientists should begin by studying the subject, rather than passing simplistic moral
judgments. Addiction is not a plague, it is a search for meaning.
As to the figure of 80,000, wasn't it a few weeks ago that the figure was 300,000? Or was that the number of students who
were ``addicted'' to speed?
Congratulations to the Post for revealing the savagery allegedly perpetrated against Ajuuh Cheh Mooh Gooh. And let it be
noted that there has never been a single recorded case of anyone dying as a result of opium withdrawal. Even in the case of use
of injectable heroin over a long period of time, such cases are quite rare.
Andre McNicoll
Keep government out of people's lives
As long as nations continue to pass and enforce laws against the private behaviour of individual adults, we will continue to see
totalitarian police states, corruption in the military and in law enforcement, uneven enforcement of said laws because of
institutionalised racism and classism, intrusive searches and seizures, and organised crime, the perpetrators of which are many of
our own public officials.
Whatever part of the world considers itself democratic needs to push vigorously for reform in these laws. Whether they involve a
woman's right to choose or an individual's right to ingest the intoxicants of his or her choice, it is nobody else's business and,
in particular, is not the government's business.
Take a look at how inefficient government is at managing itself. This being the case, why would anyone trust ``big brother'' to
fairly regulate our private lives?
Ray Carlson
We Very Question the policy exhibited by the following article, this sweeping government policy of terrorism against the Akha Villages must stop.
Should hundreds of people be terrorized for the crimes of a few?
In this fashion, despite abuses of these people, the Akha are collectively made out to be endless drug dealers.  At the same time
Thailand profits millions of dollars off their touristic images and exploitation.
Bangkok Post Jan 25, 2002
Ten arrested in village raids  
Anucha Charoenpo  
About 200 armed policemen raided three hilltribe villages suspected of being transit depots for drug trafficking, arrested 10
people and seized about 2,000 methamphetamine pills early yesterday.
Aided by two sniffer dogs they searched 27 houses at Sa Je, Mae Rai and Pakao villages in Mae Chan district.  
Two handguns and 7,000 baht in cash were also seized.
The 10 suspects were detained at Mae Chan police station for questioning.
Pol Maj-Gen Wuth Vithitanont, the provincial police chief, said police had acted on a tip-off the villages were used as drug
storage points and some of the villagers were involved in the trade.
The information was given by members of the villages' committees formed three months ago under the provincial civil society
The programme was aimed at encouraging villagers to provide information about drug problems in their villages.
``It is a psychological campaign to deter villagers from getting involved in drugs,'' Pol Maj-Gen Wuth said.
(No Shit!)
Bangkok Post Jan 26, 2002
Army pledges to pay more money to dead Akha's kin  
Anucha Charoenpo and Subin Khuenkaew
The army yesterday pledged to pay more compensation to the family of an Akha man alleged to have been beaten to death at an
army-run drug detoxification camp in Mae Fah Luang district.
Col Manas Paowalit of the Third Army said the compensation would be paid after the completion of an army inquiry into the
``We are aware of the situation and are willing to help the man's family in every way,'' said Col Manas, who was assigned by
Third Army commander Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasing to look into claims hilltribe drug addicts were detained in dirt pits and
tortured. One tribesman was killed in Ban Mae Moh village last month when he refused to confess to drug trafficking charges.
Col Manas yesterday met the widow of Ajuuh Cheh Mooh Gooh _ Mrs Apiew _ and Ateh Amoh, another drug addict who
claimed he was savagely beaten until his lung was ruptured and bleeding.
Mrs Apiew and Mr Ateh confirmed soldiers beat Ajuuh to death.
Col Manas said he wanted to establish the truth because his chief, Lt-Gen Udomchai, was concerned the army's image was
tarnished by the affair.
The Third Army commander wanted to punish the soldiers involved in inappropriate actions against Ajuuh and Ateh.
He said two sergeants involved in the beatings were transferred and a probe was launched by Maj-Gen Pichanmet Muangmanee,
deputy commander of the Third Army.
To reduce tension in the area, the military unit in the village would be moved to Kuteng Nayong outpost in Mae Sai district by
the end of the month, he said.
Bangkok Post Front Page Sunday 27 Jan 2002
Soldier takes blame for fatal beating (???????)
Anucha Charoenpo Subin Khuenkaew  
A lieutenant-colonel overseeing border villages in Mae Fah Luang district yesterday claimed responsibility for the death of an
Akha man in an army-run drug rehab camp last month.
Lt-Col Apisit Nujbussaba, a battalion commander, said he was ``very sorry'' for the incident and was ready to face the
consequences. Ajuuh Cheh Muuh Gooh, 42, was beaten to death in an army-run drug detoxification camp in the Mae Moh
hilltribe village.
``I am a man and a soldier who dares to accept the truth. In this fatal case, I think it was just an accident. My soldiers and I are
human enough not to harm those who are weaker than us.
``Why did we have to act violently against the dead person and other tribesmen addicted to drugs?,'' Lt-Col Apisit asked. Lt-Gen
Udomchai Ongkhasing, Third Army commander, yesterday questioned Lt-Col Apisit over the incident.
Ajuuh's widow, Apiew, 45, claimed he was beaten to death by soldiers during a drug detoxification programme. Four other
hilltribe drug addicts were also savagely beaten. One of them, Ateh Amoh, 34, suffered a ruptured lung.
Lt-Col Apisit said he did not report the incident to his boss because he thought Ajuuh's death was just an ``accident''. He said
Ajuuh's death was caused by symptoms from serious drug abuse and not from the effects of a beating.
Bangkok Post 28 Jan 2002
8th day
Widow struggles just to feed her children  
Soldiers destroyed my life, she says  
Anucha Charoenpo  
Apiew Mooh Gooh's husband died in an army-run drug detoxification camp _ and she says
the soldiers have destroyed her hopes and her life.
Mrs Apiew, 44, said when she first heard that soldiers had taken her opium addicted
husband, Ajuuh, and put him in the detoxification programme she was delighted.
She wanted him to give up the drug, which he had smoked for many years.
Despite being a long-time user, he was still strong and healthy. No-one thought by
joining the programme he could lose his life.
``The soldiers beat my husband to death,'' she said.
``They ruined my life and took away my hope. I no longer want them in my village.''
Mrs Apiew has lived in the village for 25 years.
``When I see soldiers walking through the village, I dare not look them in the eyes. I hate
them so much because they have changed my life so badly,'' she said, weeping.
Ajuuh was savagely beaten by soldiers at a military camp near his Mae Moh village in Mae Fa Luang district.  
Four other Akha men also taken into the programme were severely injured on the same night. All were addicts suspected of drug
Ajuuh's death about a month ago left Mrs Apiew alone to shoulder the burden of supporting her six young children, aged four to
nine, and disabled 75-year-old father-in-law.  
The children are too young to work while her father-in-law cannot even cook rice for himself.
Mrs Apiew says she rises early in the morning and walks across the hills alone to the tea plantation where she earns 60 baht a
day picking leaves.
She does not work every day, as there is not enough work to go around.
``Back in the old days, I did not have to work. Our daily income was enough for everyone.
``Today, I admit it is hard to find enough food for every meal. Some days I do not have enough money.
``Sometimes I have even begged for food from my neighbours and relatives,'' Mrs Apiew said.
She had not slept well since her husband's death. She missed the old days when the family lived happily together and had time
to think about the future.
Her children no longer go to school. Mrs Apiew said she was worried she might die before having a chance to see her children
She wants the army and the government to help with her children's education, at least through to compulsory level, so that they
can earn a living when they grow up.
The army has given Mrs Apiew 7,000 baht towards her husband's funeral. She says she needs the money just to keep her family
from starving.

Copyright 1991 The Akha Heritage Foundation