'Top villain' crackdown set to intensify

'Top villain' crackdown set to intensify

The 2003
The 2003 "war on drugs" by then-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra reportedly left more than 2,500 dead, including low-level street dealers and innocent bystanders, and sparked international protests. (File photos Bangkok Post, Act-Up)

Army commander Gen Theerachai Nakvanich has given authorities six months to intensify the crackdown on "influential criminal figures".

Gen Theerachai, secretary-general of the National Council for Peace and Order, said the crackdown would be stepped up over the six-month period, adding that provincial governors, police and local officials must contribute to the campaign. He said there is no deadline for authorities to complete the operation.

The government has sent a blacklist of more than 6,000 suspected criminal figures to authorities nationwide and pledged to take action against them, no matter who they are and no matter what political affiliations they have.

Those targeted fall into 16 violation categories including forest encroachment and destruction of natural resources, drug trade in prisons, tax evasion, loan sharking and gangs duping foreign tourists.

"[The crackdown] covers every sector, including military officers, and pays no attention to [political] affiliations. Why just political elements? Or are these criminal figures in politics, which I don't think they are. They are outlaws and we go after outlaws, so ordinary people can go about their business without worries," he said.

Army commander Theerachai Nakvanich: First stage of the crackdown will last at least six months. (Bangkok Post photo)

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, chair of the committee responsible for suppressing influential criminal figures, said Wednesday the government was targeting criminals, not innocent figures.

He admitted that state officials were implicated in criminal activities but declined to give details.

Authorities reiterated the plan amid concerns voiced by human rights advocates.

National human rights commissioner Angkhana Neelapaijit called for authorities to exercise caution and obey the rule of law. She asked the government to clarify its definition of "influential criminals".

Any arrest must be conducted after a court warrant is issued, she said, adding that suspects must see their basic rights guaranteed, including bail and family visits if detained, and have access to a lawyer and a fair trial.

Vasant Panich, a lawyer and human rights advocate, warned against any special operation, instead wanting to see suspects face the normal judicial process.

"I hope authorities have enough evidence before they put individuals on a blacklist," he said. Lessons must be drawn from the "war on drugs" that occurred during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, during which many innocent people lost their lives and property, Mr Vasant added.

He expressed concern regarding the government's crackdown on forest encroachment as it would disproportionately affect the poor.

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