The newly established International Narcotics Control College (INCC) in Chiang Rai aims to provide training to law enforcement agents and partner organisations to combat drug trafficking in the Mekong subregion.
The college, the first of its kind in the Mekong region, is in the compound of the Hall of Opium, dubbed Thailand's opium museum, in Chiang Saen district.
It was recently launched by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Thailand's Office of Narcotics Control Board (ONCB).
Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and Pacific, told the Bangkok Post that the college will be a good opportunity for the ONCB and its partners to offer innovative programmes to address drug problems.
"We are looking at offering courses at the INCC in drug intelligence and analysis, border management, precursor chemical control, as well as drug policy and demand reduction," he said.
"While some will be for Thai agencies, others will involve joint training with officials from Laos and other countries."
Besides the INCC, the existing Safe Mekong Coordination Center (SMCC) of the ONCB in Chiang Saen will continue to monitor drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle and Mekong subregion countries, he said.
The Golden Triangle, a key opium-producing area in Southeast Asia, comprises Myanmar, Laos and Thailand.
Mr Douglas said the UNODC will support SMCC tasks, such as drug analysis, and provide new intelligence software and training.
"The symbolism of the INCC and SMCC being situated together in the Golden Triangle within a kilometre of the borders with Myanmar and Laos is also important and not lost on us," he said.
"While it is somewhat remote it is in many respects the perfect location."
Regional commitment is crucial in solving drug problems and cross-border crime in the region, he said.
He highlighted meetings like the recent Mekong MoU on Drug Control in Beijing, where the six Mekong subregion countries -- Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and China -- and the UNODC agreed on new law enforcement strategies.
He said Asean nations also recently met to discuss anti-drug measures but challenges remained for Asean to consider information related to root causes and conditions, and confront situations in a strategic way.
He said engagement with Myanmar is limited and politically difficult for many. Independent groups in the country's Shan state are not part of the discussion but are intimately involved, he added, noting the drug problem is centred in the country.
"There is real urgency given the situation in Shan and border areas," he said. "Frankly, the trajectory of the situation is not good."
"Neighbours of Myanmar, including China and Thailand, are coordinating, including with other Mekong countries and the UNODC, but the information sharing and level of cooperation needs to be more significant if real progress is to be made," he said.
INCC in detail
Wichai Chaimongkhon, ONCB's secretary-general, told the Bangkok Post that INCC was formed after the Mae Fah Luang Foundation, which oversees the Hall of Opium, gave some land at the museum to the ONCB.
The ONCB had come up with an idea to open an international anti-drugs institution for people across the subregion, which later resulted in the INCC.
As for the curriculum, it will mainly involve teaching investigation, prevention and suppression concepts, Mr Wichai said. The college is also acting as a research centre in the region, he said.
The college itself is located in a forest near the Mekong River to help provide first-hand experiences on how to fight against drug trafficking on land and in water.
"Thailand is in the centre of the Mekong subregion. So, it is a strategic location for people across the subregion to meet easily," Mr Wichai said.
The INCC, he said, is supported by the ONCB's Drug Prevention and Suppression Fund to include a shooting gallery, mock crime scenes, learning and seminar equipment and residential areas for trainees.
"Some of the budgets under this fund is money which the court confiscated from drug traffickers," he said.
"We use this money to build this place and strengthen our officials' and regional partners' capacities.
"We are also trying to legislate regulations to permit opium planting in this centre primarily for research," he said.
Also, the centre is sponsored by the UNODC, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and Saudi Arabia.
Mr Wichai said although the college is now open, the launch was just the first stage of the development, as some facilities such as a seminar room, the shooting gallery and the drug research centre, have not yet been completed.
The centre is expected to be completed by next year.
"We hope this training centre will strengthen crime-solving capacities in the Mekong subregion, especially in this period when drug crimes are becoming highly digitised and complex," he said.
"Drug traffickers always find new ways and make use of technology to smuggle drugs," he said.
"We need to increase our capacity to ensure we can cope with drug crimes in the region."