Fueled by the drug trade, crime is on the rise in Laos

Two-thirds of crimes are drug-related, and motorcycle thefts are also common
By RFA Lao
2023.02.23
Fueled by the drug trade, crime is on the rise in Laos A Laos police officer prepares piles of seized illegal drugs for a burning ceremony in Xam Neau town, a popular trafficking route, June 26, 2018.
Credit: AFP

Crime in Laos is growing, fueled largely by wider drug use and trafficking, police say.

The number of all manner of crimes – from murder and robberies to drug busts – rose 28% last year to 8,162 cases, according to numbers reported Feb. 10 by Brig. Gen. Nilavong Cheuangtavalath, deputy director of police at the Lao Ministry of Public Security.

Drug-related crimes accounted for nearly two-thirds of them, or 5,068, according to the report. This includes arrests for possession and trafficking of drugs including methamphetamine, heroin, crystal meth, opium, cannabis, cocaine and ecstasy as well as drug-related murders and other crimes. 

ENG_LAO_Crime_02172023.2.jpg
A man transports his motorcycle across the Mekong River near Luang Prabang. Laos, close to the site of an approved Laos dam site. More than 1,700 motorcycles were stolen in Laos last year. Credit: AFP file photo

Lao authorities have declared a  commitment to combat drug trafficking, and earlier this month seized 500 kilograms of crystal meth in the Golden Triangle,  an area in northern Laos that also includes parts of Thailand and Myanmar, where the drug trade is rife.

One criminal lawyer contacted by Radio Free Asia said that the increase in drug-related crimes has made walking around the streets of cities more dangerous.  

He also said online gambling has led to more crime. “Besides drugs, many Laotians became addicted to online gambling which was also one of the main causes of robbery and thefts. This year, online gambling was rampant. [People] gamble online, lose money, then owe a lot of debt, then they rob and steal.”

Some people may be turning to crime to pay for their drug habit, one resident said. Another suggested that a lack of education is one reason more youth are turning to crime.

Motorcycle theft

The crime tally included 1,758 motorcycle thefts and 592 economic crimes that caused a loss of more than $28 million. 

But people complain that police often can’t track down stolen items.

In Vientiane province, a resident told RFA that after his motorcycle was stolen, he reported the crime to the police. “They said they were going to follow up the case; so far, nothing has happened,” he told RFA, on condition of anonymity like others in this report. 

The resident in Vientiane’s Viengkham district said that motorcycle thefts are common where he lives. He said that Honda Wave motorcycles are the most commonly stolen, perhaps because it is lucrative to sell their parts.

“The police should work more effectively; they should help people catch the thieves and find the stolen property,” he said.

Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Nawar Nemeh and Malcolm Foster.

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