In drug bust, Lao police seize half a ton of crystal meth in Golden Triangle

Authorities arrest four smugglers and are looking for a drug kingpin.
By RFA Lao
2023.02.14
In drug bust, Lao police seize half a ton of crystal meth in Golden Triangle Four men arrested by police for alleged drug trafficking stand behind packs of crystal methamphetamine they were transporting, in northern Laos' Bokeo province, Feb. 7, 2023.
Lao Security News

Lao police are searching for the kingpin of an illegal drug smuggling operation in the Golden Triangle area, where authorities seized 500 kilograms of crystal methamphetamine and arrested four smugglers in one of the largest hauls of the narcotic in the notorious crime zone, Lao officials said Monday.

The area where northern Laos converges with Myanmar and Thailand at the confluence of the Mekong and Ruak rivers is a haven for crimes including prostitution, online scamming, and narcotics trafficking, by organized criminal networks. 

The Lao government and a Chinese-owned company, Kings Romans Group, set up a special economic zone in the Lao section of the Golden Triangle in 2007, hoping to generate economic development in the relatively poor country. But the level of crime and the area’s reputation as a hub in the synthetic drug trade have brought problems, such as local drug addicts.

The four alleged criminals nabbed on Feb. 7 told Bokeo province police that they were only drivers, and not smugglers, said the officer, who like others in this report requested anonymity so as to speak freely. 

Meanwhile, police are still searching for a drug lord in charge of the operation, he said.

“We couldn’t catch the big fish who is behind this drug haul,” the police officer told Radio Free Asia. 

Police have charged the four detained men with allegedly smuggling the crystal methamphetamine from Myanmar to Bokeo province, he added.  

Authorities have stored the bags of drugs in a police warehouse where they will be used as evidence during the trials, but once the court renders verdicts, the meth will be burned, the police officer said.

Illegal drug trafficking has been a long-standing problem in Bokeo and other provinces.

In October 2021, police intercepted a haul of 55 million methamphetamine tablets and over 1.5 tons of crystal meth in the Golden Triangle region, after stopping a beer delivery truck for inspection in Bokeo. At the time, the United Nations called it the largest single drug bust in Asia. 

Lao authorities seized another significant haul of 259 kilos of crystal meth in Luang Prabang province in September 2022.

Authorities in Bokeo’s Tonpheung district, where the latest arrests occurred, were also part of the seizure operations and handed the bags over to provincial police, said a Tonpheung official. 

“The Bokeo Province Police Department has been assigned to the Investigation and Interrogation Unit to investigate and look for the drug lord of this drug-smuggling ring,” he said.

Bokeo province’s mountains and jungles, which provide a nearly undetectable transit route for drug smugglers, pose a significant challenge for law enforcement officers, said a provincial official.

“Our provincial police force has set up many police checkpoints and is working closely with our residents who often give us some good tips,” he told RFA. “We have arrested some smugglers thanks to the tips from our communities.”

Laotians living in nearby districts say authorities must do more to curtail the area’s drug trade.

A resident of Houayxay district said police should crack down on drugs harder at the village level after residents report to the police that their sons and daughters are involved in narcotics use or trafficking.

Village authorities don’t arrest or try to reform them, because police are only going after the traffickers and smugglers, he said.

The illegal narcotics trade is not limited to Bokeo province. Bolikhamxay province in central Laos has also seen an increase in drug trafficking and local drug addicts.

“The most vulnerable group is our youth, not only in our district but in others as well,” said a resident of Kham Keut district. “If our authorities were more serious in cracking down on drugs, then drug use and trafficking would be reduced.”

Translated by Max Avary for RFA Lao. Edited by Roseanne Gerin and Paul Eckert.

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