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Lao authorities seize another huge shipment of methamphetamine – The Diplomat

Beat ASEAN | Economy | South East Asia

The four largest seizures of methamphetamine ever recorded in the country have taken place in the past 15 months, stark evidence of the magnitude of the recent boom in drug production in the Mekong.

Over the weekend, authorities in Laos made another gargantuan seizure of methamphetamines, 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 intercepted a shipment of 33 million methamphetamine tablets along with 500 kilograms of crystal meth, their third-largest seizure drugs never registered.

According to a Associated Press report, which quoted Jeremy Douglas, the UNODC regional representative based in Bangkok, the seizure took place after 200,000 tablets were discovered on Friday evening in a truck at a checkpoint in Bokeo province, in the north- western Laos. Information gleaned from the truck driver immediately led to a larger seizure.

The bust is just the latest evidence of the massive amounts of illegal narcotics – particularly amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) – now flowing out of Shan State conflict zones in Myanmar. In May, 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 regional transport of nearly 172 tonnes of methamphetamine – an amount seven times higher than who seized 10 years earlier.

The spike 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 towards the production of synthetic narcotics, including ATS in their various forms. According to the UNODC, these syndicates are now able to produce the ingredients needed to manufacture various drugs, including crystal meth and meth pills (yaba), as well as synthetic opioids.

The increase was also aided by the COVID-19 pandemic and associated movement restrictions, which caused these unions to diversify their transport routes. According to UNODC, an increasingly important smuggling route now passes through Laos, a country that has relatively weak law enforcement capacity and shares a remote and poorly monitored border with the farthest reaches. east of Shan State in Myanmar.

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Proof of this is that the four largest methamphetamine seizures ever recorded in the country have taken place in the last 15 months. The largest was in October 2021, when Bokeo police seized more than 55.6 million methamphetamine pills in a single raid, with approximately 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of crystal meth. The second largest seizure in the country, of 36.5 million pills, took place in January this year, also in Bokeo. The fourth largest was in July 2021, when police stopped a truck in the capital Vientiane that contained nearly 17 million methamphetamine tablets.

To put the colossal numbers in historical perspective, UNODC reported last year that Laos had seized 18.6 million methamphetamine tablets and 5.5 tons of crystal meth over the whole year 2020compared to 17.7 million and 5.1 tons in 2019. The agency also reported that in 2020 the price of methamphetamines in East and Southeast Asia fell to its lowest level in 10 years, the market being overwhelmed with supply.

Not surprisingly, three of these four major Lao seizures took place in Bokeo, close to the trafficking route that connects Shan State to Laos. Indeed, this weekend’s transport was intercepted near the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, a gambling-centric development run by a Chinese businessman that operates virtually independently of Lao government oversight. and has long been suspected of being involved in the drug trade.

With Myanmar’s economy now in near total dysfunction due to last year’s military coup, this figure is expected to rise further in 2023.