Thai cops shot dead a smuggler and seized 15 million meth pills at a checkpoint in Thailand's portion of the "Golden Triangle", officials said Friday, the latest death in an intensifying drug crackdown.
Millions of dollars-worth of methamphetamine pour into Thailand each week from neighbouring Myanmar, where drug lords are flooding the market with narcotics.
The Golden Triangle is a notorious lawless border zone that straddles Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
Experts say drug lords in the zone, mainly in neighbouring Myanmar's self-administered Wa state, have been churning out more drugs than ever in a trade worth tens of billions of dollars annually.
Thai drug police and military have ramped up operations in the northern gateway to Myanmar, killing and arresting smugglers who are often from ethnic hill tribes who live across the lawless area.
The latest shootout happened as three trucks were stopped late Thursday night in Chiang Rai province.
"They fought back... one smuggler was shot dead," said Major General Pornchai Charoenwong, deputy commander of the Narcotics Suppression Police.
It is the 15th death of an alleged smuggler in just over a month in northern Thailand as authorities intensify a crackdown on the rampant trade in meth tablets, the crystallised "ice" version, and heroin.
In the trucks were a total of 75 sacks with the numbers "999" printed on them, a brand used by Myanmar drug lords.
"Each bag had 200,000 tablets... we estimate there are around 15 million tablets."
Two other men escaped in the dark, said the major general.
More than 79 million meth tablets have been seized by authorities in the north's 17 provinces over the past seven weeks, said third army commander Chalongchai Chaiyuakham.
"They are all from the same group of smugglers," he said.