A gunfight between Thai security forces and a band of Golden Triangle drug smugglers left nine traffickers dead, a senior official said Sunday, the latest clash sparked by the booming regional trade in narcotics.
Narongsak Osotthanakorn, governor of northern Chiang Rai province, said the firefight broke out on Saturday evening two kilometres inside Thailand from the border with Myanmar.
"Authorities told them to halt but they refused and started shooting. The two sides exchanged fire for about 10 minutes leaving nine smugglers killed and the rest fled," he told AFP, adding the smuggling group was originally 15 people strong.
Some 700,000 methamphetamine tablets were found alongside semi-automatic rifles, he added.
The Golden Triangle, a region in the borderlands of Thailand, Myanmar, Laos and southern China, is the world's second largest drug-producing region after Latin America.
Huge quantities of opium, heroin and methamphetamine pills are churned out in remote jungle labs each year for the Asia market and beyond.
Corruption and weak law enforcement help the trade thrive.
Seizures have risen across the region over the last decade.
But the cartels appear able to shake off losses with ramped up productions while most of those caught or killed are low-level mules, not kingpins.
Governor Narongsak did not say what nationality the dead smugglers were.
But Mae Sai district, where the firefight took place, is just across from the so-called Wa State, an autonomous region of eastern Myanmar run by a powerful ethnic militia.
The Wa have turned their homeland into a narco-state, churning out heroin and highly-addictive caffeine-laced methamphetamine pills -- to fund their powerful militia and retain independence.
Myanmar's central government, which is trying to forge a fragile peace with myriad ethnic militias, has little ability or appetite to confront the Wa.