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Orphans of the Drug War

Napanisa Kaewmorakot
The war on drugs may have temporally reduced the amount of illegal narcotics and the number of dealers in the country, but it will permanently damage the children of those killed or jailed, child-welfare advocates say.

Already many of them are living in desperate circumstances and are in danger of falling victim to drug abuse, criminality and other social ills, they say.

Moreover, if police fail to arrest those responsible for the "silencing killings" that claimed their parents' lives, the children are destined to grow up with no respect for society.

"It doesn't matter what the facts [of the cases] are, for the children their parents were innocent and sentenced to death without any proof of their guilt," says Senator Montri Sintaweechai.

"Once they feel that there is no justice for them, they cannot be peaceful like normal children. They will have only pain in their lives," says Montri, who is also a secretary-general of the Child Protection Foundation.

Eight-year-old Mo became withdrawn and untidy after her mother was jailed for drug trafficking. Mo, who will be without her mother for four years, is one of about 2,000 children in Klong Toei who either lost or are temporarily separated from their parents due to the war on drugs.

In Songkhla, nine-year-old Non is still in shock since witnessing the murder of both his father and mother. Non hasn't spoken to another person since the killings occurred a year ago.

In Petchabun, Sornchai Sae Thao, the oldest child of Sia-jue Sae Thao - who was shot dead on February 12 last year - says he has no idea how his family will survive. There are eight children, his mother and another wife.

Sornchai, 27, is now the breadwinner of a large family, which was left in poverty and debt following the death of his father. He says, however, that the emotional anguish is much worse that the family's deteriorating physical condition.

"My father had been a respected person in the village.

"The claim by police that he was involved in the drugs business and that he was shot by another dealer damaged his reputation and discredited our family," Sornchai says.

His father was shot dead along with three other Hmong from the same village. Police claimed that they all were "silencing killings" carried out by someone involved in the drugs trade.

Sornchai says he has no idea how to explain to his younger siblings, five of whom are pre-teen, about their father's death.

When Chaiya Jantanam, the mayor of Tambon Phukradueng in Loei province, was shot dead on May 6 last year his teenage son had to quit college to help his widowed mother run the family's motorcycle repair shop.

Chaiya's wife Kittima says she is in danger of losing the business. "I don't know how much longer I can keep my husband's business because our creditors are about to take away our shop because I can't pay off his debts alone," she says.

Her husband had nothing to do with drugs but was slandered by rival politicians, she adds.

Following his death, more than Bt7 million worth of assets were confiscated by police.

"People thought we were rich from the drug trade. In fact, most of the assets we had were inherited from my father.

Chaiya himself created a lot of debt from his dedication to local politics and his love of sports. He paid for talented children in the village to get proper training. Some of them made it to national teams," Kittima says.

For many "innocent victims" of the drugs war, the loss of a parent or relative has been compounded by the stigma of being associated with the drugs trade. Many children in Klong Toei - Bangkok's largest slum community - - have become "unwanted children" since losing their parents, says Senator Prateep Ungsomgtham Hata, founder of the Duang Prateep Foundation.

Many of them cannot even get into schools, Prateep says.

Schools have no room for "heirs of drug dealers," she explains.

Some teenagers are unable to rent rooms outside of Klong Toei because landlords are afraid that "Klong Toei children" will use their rooms to distribute or store drugs.

In what may be the cruellest irony of the drugs war, the discarded children might end up turning to illegal narcotics, she warns.

"The government must take responsibility for the children who are paying the price for their 'victory'," she says.

Family forced to borrow food, money from neighbours
Charuayporn Thongdee has lived a nightmare since her husband Samant was murdered on April 9 last year.

Samant was shot five times in the neck and body while sitting alone in front of their house in Tak province. The police claimed it was a "silencing killing" and say they found 98 methamphetamine pills in a small plastic bag in his underwear.

Almost a year later, the investigation into Samant's murder has yet to make progress. The lives of his wife and children, however, have been brutally transformed. The family's assets were seized by the Narcotics Control Board ( NCB ) and Samant's pension and life insurance have been suspended.

Charuayporn, a 40-year-old nurse, now has to borrow money and food from her neighbours.

She sent her eldest son to stay with relatives in another province because she was afraid he would be killed. Her younger son, who stays with her, is taunted as the "son of a drug dealer" by his peers. Sometimes strange men are seen lurking around the house, Charuayporn says. She also receives anonymous calls from a man who tries to persuade her to meet him.

"He tells me he can help me, but I'm afraid that he might be trying to trick me into going out to meet him so that he can kill me," she says.

"I hope the police and NCB can conclude the case soon so we can live in peace like we used to in the past," Charuayporn says.

She says it is unfair to her family that the investigation into her husband's murder is based on the assumption that it was what the police describe as a "silencing killing" - that he was killed by a drug dealer who wanted to hide his identity. "He never peddled drugs," she insists.

The pills were discovered after Samant's body was moved to a hospital. She says their oldest son and a hospital employee had undressed Samant and dropped his clothing, including his underwear, into a garbage bin in front of relatives and numerous hospital workers.

Once they had completed cleaning the dead man's body about 20 police officers entered the room and ordered the family out, she says.

Soon after they summoned the family back into the room to tell them that they had found the pills. They accused the dead man's oldest son of trying to destroy evidence.

"There were many witnesses who saw us removing his clothes and nobody saw anything in the underwear," Charuaypon says.

The superintendent of Tak's Muang district police says: "We were given some information indicating that Samant was a drug dealer."

"I didn't have any conflict with Samant so there's no motivation to frame him," adds Colonel Chaiyan Benjathikul.

If there is any justice in this world the people who did this to our family should be punished for murdering an innocent father.

Swedish national Anna Kumatom, 29, wrote this letter to The Nation almost a year after losing her Thai husband in the war on drugs.
She now lives in Sweden with their two children.

A letter arrives from Sweden: 'If there is any justice in this world'

This is the story of my husband, Suweep Kumatom - also known as Paeh - who was murdered on February 26, 2003 in Pattaya, where we used to live. He was murdered during Thailand's "war on drugs" although he was never involved in any drug business at all. I am now seeking your help to draw attention to his case, which is a huge violation of human rights, and hopefully to be able to clear my husband's name and have the people who did this horrible deed brought to justice. . . . I met my husband three-and-a-half years ago. For the first six months [after marriage] everything was fine until the day the police came to our [jewellery] shop looking for drugs. One of them was an old friend of Paeh's who had become a policeman. [Their friendship had ended years before.]

Four times the policemen came to our shop, twice they checked my husband in the street and one time six policemen came with AK47s [assault rifles] to our home. This was the seventh time they checked and found nothing. . . . Naturally, we started getting afraid for the safety of our lives and our children. My husband made the decision to move to a safer place. . . . February 26 was the last time I saw my husband alive. He left home at 12.10am and had an appointment at his shop at 12.30am. He never made it to the shop. . . . When I woke up at 5am I felt that something very bad had happened to my husband. I phoned a friend of mine and asked her to come and take care of the children. I then went out and looked for him. At 11am I found his car at the police station. The policemen spoke in a very rude manner to me and said: "Is this your husband? He died already. You come here and sign some papers." . . . At the time of the killing I was 28 years old and our children were one-and-a-half-years old and three months.

I want to know who made the decision to destroy our young and happy family. And I think that my story could be an eye-opener to the world because things like this shouldn't be happening.

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