Laos sees big meth slump as UN warns of security breach

Police in the Southeast Asian country Laos have made their second huge seizure in three months of methamphetamine

Jeremy Douglas, the regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, said the seizure of 36.5 million methamphetamine tablets in Bokeo province in the northwest of the country was the second largest in the region after the seizure of 55.6 million methamphetamine tablets in October in the same province.

He warned that the Mekong region, where the seizure took place, was experiencing an increase in drug production and trafficking which required great efforts to bring under control.

“Organized crime is treating the Mekong region like a playground – it has all the elements they are looking for,” he said.

Lao Security Radio, a state broadcaster, said on its website that four provincial residents were arrested in Huay Xai district on Wednesday in a raid that also captured 590 kilograms (1,300 pounds) of crystal meth – also known as ice – a minor amount of heroin and a gun.

Bokeo borders Myanmar and Thailand, a border area known as the Golden Triangle, infamous for the production of illicit drugs. Heroin and the opium from which it is derived have been joined in recent decades by methamphetamine, mainly produced in Myanmar, particularly its Shan State.

“Production in Shan is off the charts and Laos is now a preferred gateway for traffickers,” Douglas said in an email. Thailand is a major market for medicines from Myanmar, which are also shipped to other countries. Laos is a poor, sparsely populated and landlocked country notorious for its corruption which can facilitate smuggling.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since February last year, when the military seized power from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. It now faces an armed challenge from enemies of the military regime, disrupting normal law enforcement operations to suppress drug trafficking. The situation is further complicated because drug production is often associated with armed groups of ethnic minorities involved in political struggles with the government and sometimes among themselves.

“Drugs and conflict in Shan have been linked for decades. But as security has collapsed, particularly in the last eight or nine months, we have seen an explosion of supply hit the Mekong and Southeast Asia,” Douglas said. “Neighbors like Thailand and Laos have been inundated with meth in recent months.”

“There are no easy solutions given the governance situation in Shan,” he said.

If the region is to start slowing the flow of drugs out of the Triangle, Douglas said governments must rein in the chemical trade, secure borders and make money laundering more difficult.

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