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Yaba pills threaten to swamp region

By K. C. Vijayan, The Straits Times,
17 October 2000

Singapore police have seized more than 10,000 pills and smashed two drug syndicates in the last six months.

THE Yaba scourge in Thailand has threatened to spill over to other countries, including Singapore, as traffickers flood the streets with millions of the red tablets.

Some pills have already landed on Singapore's shores.

The Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) has seized more than 10,000 Yaba tablets in the past six months -- more than twice 1998's haul when the drug first surfaced.

At a recent meeting of drug enforcement agencies in Palermo, Sicily, the director-general of Thailand's Narcotics Control Board, Mr Sorasit Sangprasert said the threat from Yaba was real and serious.

Countries in South-east Asia are not exempt from this threat, he said.

There was no telling how big the networks of some syndicates were because this year alone, Thai authorities had seized more than 20 million Yaba tablets, he said.

In Singapore, the CNB has been on alert to the possible influx of the drug.

CNB Deputy Director Muhammad Azni Sarbini, said: We are concerned because of the widespread abuse and ready availability of the drug in the region.

In the first half of this year, 20 Thai nationals were arrested for trafficking Yaba. Six other Thai nationals were caught for using the drug.

But the problem is not confined to Thai nationals.

Last year, 155 Singaporeans were arrested for taking Yaba.

The CNB believes addicts used Yaba because they could not lay their hands on other drugs such as heroin or Ecstasy.

Between May and July this year, the CNB broke two Thailand-based trafficking syndicates and seized more than 4,000 tablets. And it has intercepted two attempts to import the drug by air and confiscated 5,000 tablets.

Apart from cutting off supply channels, the CNB also conducts raids to round up suspected addicts.

Singapore's Thai community is helping the authorities make sure the estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Thai workers here stay away from the drug.

A Thai Embassy official told The Straits Times: We know that it is a problem and we are looking into ways to see how we can help.

Reverend Giatisak Roongrawiwan, 47, the pastor of the Thai Ministry at the Trinity Christian Church in Lavender Street, said drug peddlers wanted to get workers hooked so they would become regular customers.

Rev Giatisak said: As the workers work long hours, the lure of Yaba to keep them energised is very tempting.

His church is one of several groups which hold regular social activities for Thai workers.

He also also works closely with the Kampong Glam Neighbourhood Police Post to organise concerts and sporting events.

Such activities make the workers happier and healthier. But with Yaba, they can end up doing strange things, like climbing to the top of a lamp-post without knowing it, he said.