Lao Authorities Seize Another Huge Shipment of Methamphetamine

ASEAN Rhythm | Economy | Southeast Asia

The country’s four largest recorded methamphetamine seizures have occurred in the past 15 months, a striking testament to the scale of the Mekong’s recent drug production boom.

Over the weekend, the Lao authorities made another gigantic seizure of methamphetamine, the latest sign of the continuing explosion of illicit drug production in mainland Southeast Asia. On Saturday, a United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) official said the government had intercepted a haul of 33 million methamphetamine tablets along with 500 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine, its third-largest seizure of registered drug.

according to a Associated Press report, which quoted Jeremy Douglas, UNODC regional representative in Bangkok, the seizure came after 200,000 tablets were found Friday night in a truck at a checkpoint in Bokeo province in northwestern Laos. . Information gathered from the truck driver immediately led to the largest seizure.

The bust is just the latest evidence of the massive amounts of illegal narcotics, particularly amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), now flowing out of the conflict zones of Myanmar’s Shan state. In May, the UNODC reported that the number of methamphetamine tablets seized in East and Southeast Asia exceeded one billion for the first time in 2021. They were part of a seizure of nearly 172 tons of methamphetamine across the region, an amount seven times greater than what was seized 10 years earlier.

The increase is part of a long-term trend by Myanmar-based drug syndicates away from heroin production, which involves the cultivation of a perishable crop, the opium poppy, and toward the production of synthetic narcotics, including amphetamine-type stimulants in their various forms. forms According to the UNODC, these syndicates can now produce the ingredients to make various drugs, including methamphetamine and methamphetamine pills (wait), as well as synthetic opioids.

The increase has also been helped by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated movement restrictions, which pushed these unions to diversify their transport routes. According to the UNODC, an increasingly prominent trafficking route now runs through Laos, a nation that has a relatively weak law enforcement capacity and shares a remote and poorly guarded border with the easternmost reaches of Myanmar’s Shan State.

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The evidence for this is that the four largest methamphetamine seizures recorded in the country occurred in the last 15 months. The largest took place in October 2021, when Bokeo police seized more than 55.6 million methamphetamine pills in a single bust, along with some 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of methamphetamine. The second largest seizure in the country, of 36.5 million pills, took place in January this year, also at Bokeo. The fourth largest took place in July 2021, when police stopped a truck in the capital Vientiane containing nearly 17 million methamphetamine tablets.

To put the colossal figures in historical perspective, UNODC reported last year that Laos had seized 18.6 million methamphetamine tablets and 5.5 tons of crystalline methamphetamine in all of 2020compared to 17.7 million and 5.1 tons in 2019. The agency also reported that in 2020, the price of methamphetamine in East and Southeast Asia had fallen to its lowest level in 10 years, as the market was He was overwhelmed by the offer.

Not surprisingly, three of these four major seizures in Laos have occurred in Bokeo, near the smuggling route from Shan State to Laos. In fact, this weekend’s loot was intercepted very close to the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zonea game-focused development run by a Chinese businessman that operates virtually independently of Lao government oversight and has long been suspected of involvement in drug trafficking.

With Myanmar’s economy now in near-total dysfunction due to last year’s military coup, this figure looks set to increase further in 2023.

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