Communist-controlled Laos has suffered an unprecedented spike in violent crime as drug trafficking from neighboring Myanmar, China and Vietnam has risen dramatically, the US government reported.
The cultivation of opium, the raw material of heroin, has plummeted in Southeast Asia’s Golden Triangle over the past decade, but the trade in amphetamine-type drugs and cannabis has grown.
The US Department of State’s annual assessment of world drug production and suppression efforts last year reported that Myanmar’s military leaders may have reined in interdiction to avoid alienating ethnic armed groups that are heavily involved in the drugs trade, to minimize the chance of armed conflict ahead of November elections, it said on Thursday.
Myanmar’s seizures of amphetamine-type drugs between January and October last year totaled 1.8 million pills, compared with 13.1 million during the corresponding period in 2009.
Neighboring Thailand, a major market for Myanmar drug producers despite rigorous law enforcement, seized 32.1 million methamphetamines last year.
The International Narcotics Control Strategy Report said that in late 2009 and last year, there were a number of significant, multitonne drug seizures by Lao law enforcement authorities linked to smuggling from Myanmar, Vietnam and China. In one case, 2 tonnes of methamphetamines originating in Myanmar were seized near the Lao capital, Vientiane, apparently en route to Thailand.
Some African drug trafficking gangs also use Laos as a transit route, and US authorities continue to seize opium gum from Laos, where authorities estimate the illicit drug economy accounts for 10 percent of GDP, or about US$750 million.
“There was also a disturbing and hitherto unforeseen level of violent crime related to drug trafficking by domestic and international networks,” the report said. “A series of alarming broad daylight shootouts involving a number of persons, sometimes using sophisticated ‘war weapons,’ caused a sense of shock” in the normally peaceful capital.
The Lao government faces enormous obstacles in policing more than 5,000km of international borders along heavily forested, mountainous jungle and the Mekong River. While it participates in regional anti-narcotics conferences, it rarely shares operational information on drug cases with regional partners, the report said.
On secretive North Korea, the report said “the absence of any seizures linked directly to North Korean state institutions suggest a possible end to state involvement in drug trafficking.”
From the mid-1990s through 2003, there were many cases of narcotics trafficking to Taiwan and Japan involving North Koreans and state assets such as seagoing vessels and military patrol boats. However, for the past eight years there has been no known large-scale trafficking to either place with North Korean state involvement, the report said.
Still, rising reports of methamphetamine trafficking to China suggest continuing manufacture of the drug in the impoverished state.
“This and continued trafficking in counterfeit cigarettes and currency suggests that enforcement against organized crime in [North Korea] is lax,” the report said.
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