Laos makes huge drug haul

(Bangkok Post File Photo)

Police in Laos have made their third-biggest single seizure of illegal drugs by netting 33 million methamphetamine pills, a United Nations official said on Saturday.

In recent years Laos has become a gateway for traffickers moving meth out of Myanmar’s Shan state across the Mekong River into Thailand as a way to circumvent Thai patrols.

Laos is part of the Golden Triangle that has for decades been a hub for Southeast Asia’s lucrative drug trade.

The seizure of 33 million methamphetamine tablets and 500 kilogrammes of ice occurred on Friday in the northern province of Bokeo near the notorious Kings Romans Casino, said Jeremy Douglas, regional representative of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The location is near a Chinese-run Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone that analysts say is a hotbed for sex and wildlife trafficking as well as the drug trade.

Friday’s seizure stemmed from information garnered following a smaller capture of 200,000 meth tablets at a district checkpoint in Ton Pheung district the same day, Douglas said.

The massive shipment was not a surprise, he added.

“Bokeo has been absolutely flooded with drugs the past year and a half,” Douglas told AFP.

He said drug labs in Shan state were working overtime to pump out supply, while “northern Laos is now the frontline for the region as traffickers continue to re-route around Thai forces”.

“We’re increasingly concerned about security in Bokeo and neighbouring provinces, and the sense is major organised crime and traffickers more or less do what they want in the area.”

Photos seen by AFP show green bags of the seized drugs stacked on top of each other. Lao police have made one arrest.

Myanmar has been in chaos and its economy crippled since a military coup in February last year, but synthetic drug production was already booming before the coup.

Last October, Laos police made the biggest seizure ever of drugs in Asia by netting 55 million meth pills, while a separate raid in January this year uncovered 36 million tablets. Both took place in Bokeo province.

A record one billion meth pills were seized across East and Southeast Asia in 2021, according to a United Nations report in May this year.