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15 suspected drug smugglers killed by Thai border patrol

Thailand soldiers inspect the scene where they exchanged gunfire with suspected drug smugglers a day earlier in the Fang district in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, on Dec. 8.Associated Press

BANGKOK (AP) — Thai soldiers clashed with suspected drug smugglers in a forested area in the country’s north near the Myanmar border, killing 15, authorities said Thursday.

The soldiers encountered the group of suspects carrying backpacks Wednesday evening and ordered them to stop, but they instead opened fire, according to the Pha Muang Task Force, the military unit in charge of security in Thailand's northern border provinces.

A firefight ensued for about 10 minutes, the agency said. No soldiers were wounded but on Thursday morning when the military returned to inspect the scene in the Fang district of Chiang Mai province, they found 15 suspected smugglers dead and 29 backpacks packed with crystal meth, authorities said.

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It was still being investigated whether the suspects had brought the meth in from Myanmar. The route is a common one for drugs being smuggled into Thailand.

The exact quantity of crystal meth seized was also not immediately available, and the task force did not say whether any suspects are believed to have escaped.