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THAILAND'S new Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, is mobilising a crackdown on illegal drugs as a United Nations agency reveals a huge increase in the production and use of amphetamines across Asia.
The crackdown comes seven years after a ''war on drugs'' overseen by Ms Yingluck's older brother Thaksin Shinawatra during which still unidentified assassins killed almost 3000 Thais involved in drugs.
This time, though, Ms Yingluck said drug addicts would be treated as patients so they could return to society. ''As a mother, I do not want to see children fall victim to drugs,'' she said.
Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who is setting up a one-year drug suppression unit, said the campaign would partly focus on blocking drug shipments into Thailand.
The UN Office on Drugs and Crime Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific warned last night that the manufacture of amphetamine-type substances had undergone an industrial revolution, outstripping the use of heroin and cocaine as organised crime groups had become involved in their manufacture and distribution.
The agency said at least 50 organised crime groups were involved in trafficking drugs from Thailand's neighbour Burma, a major source of the region's methamphetamine pills.
The number of methamphetamine pills seized in south-east Asia grew from 32 million in 2008 to 133 million in 2010, the agency said in a three-yearly report on global use of amphetamine-type substances, including ecstasy.
The report, released in Bangkok, said amphetamine substances were attractive to millions of drugs users because they were affordable, convenient to use and were often associated with a modern and dynamic lifestyle. ''The risks are often underestimated in public perception,'' it said.
The report also warned of the emergence of so-called analogue substances that fall outside the control of international law enforcement agencies.
The substances sold as ''bath salts'' or ''plant food'' act as substitutes for illegal drugs such as cocaine or ecstasy.
The report said Australian authorities seized 602 illegal drug laboratories in 2009-2010, the highest number of seizures in five years. But ecstasy seizures hit a five-year low in Australia, it said.
In Thailand, Mr Chalerm tried to head off concerns by human rights groups that there would be a repeat of the extrajudicial killings during the last anti-drugs campaign.
''There will be no licence to kill involved and there is no need to increase the severity of sentences,'' Mr Chalerm said. ''It will be up the court to decide which sentence is appropriate.''
An independent committee that investigated the killings in 2007 found the campaign was driven by political goals rather than respecting human rights and the law.
Human rights groups have criticised compulsory drug treatment centres where up to 15,000 Thai drug users are sent each year. The centres are based on boot camp-style exercise, with little or no medical supervision or medication, they say.
Meanwhile, Mr Thaksin, who is in self-imposed exile in Dubai to avoid a two-year jail sentence for corruption, is due to fly to Cambodia on Friday, a day after an official visit to Phnom Penh by Ms Yingluck.