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Mae Sot is a small area of the northwestern province of Tak bordering Myanmar, with a population of just over , A bustling border point, its commercial heart turns over trade with Myanmar estimated at between 15 and 20 billion baht a year, second only to Mae Sai district in Chiang Rai.
While Mae Sot, along with the districts of Phop Phra, Mae Ramat, Tha Song Yang and Umphang in Tak, buzzes with the huge volume of cross-border trade and investment, it is also plagued with crime, including illegal immigrant workers, prostitution, smuggling of contraband goods and illegal weapons, drug trafficking as well as drug abuse among Thai and Myanmar workers. Mae Sot assistant district chief Kriangsak Boontapuan, who is in charge of local security, said Mae Sot is home to several ethnic minority groups and security officials have to keep a close watch on drug-smuggling gangs along the border.
But across the border is a transit point where huge amounts of drugs are smuggled in," Mr Kriangsak said. Teams of smugglers known as "ant armies", mostly made up of ethnic minority people in Myanmar, are paid to carry drugs through mountainous terrain to drug traders in the district, who then distribute the drugs to other provinces in the North, he said.
Drug abuse among youths and Myanmar workers also poses an equally serious problem, Mr Kriangsak said. Some workers are hired to do daily odd jobs or work in factories, which are production bases for foreign companies while others are construction workers. Many of the Myanmar workers and teenagers are drug addicts. If Myanmar teenagers are arrested and detained for taking drugs, but have certificates to verify their status, they are put into drug rehabilitation programmes.
However, there is one great obstacle in that many Thai officials cannot communicate with them in their language, hindering efforts to tackle the problem, he said.