Laos seizes tons of meth in Asia’s largest-ever drug bust

Authorities in northeastern Laos’ have made the largest-ever drug bust in Asian history, seizing 55 million methamphetamine pills and 1.5 tons of crystal meth, and arrested two people suspected of smuggling the drugs, police announced Thursday.

Wednesday’s seizure took place in Bokeo province, in the center of the Golden Triangle, a region of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand notorious for the production and distribution of narcotics.

A resident of Bokeo’s Hoeyxay district called police when he saw a suspicious seen by RFA.

Officers then stopped the truck and found the drugs hidden inside beer crates.

They arrested the driver, 22-year-old Thong Xai Thor, who after a two-hour interrogation revealed that the drugs belonged to 40-year-old Xai Tong Thor, a resident of Hoeyxay. Police arrested him at his home.

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Police confirmed to RFA’s Lao Service Thursday that they were interrogating the suspects as part of an investigation.

 “Congratulations to the police for seizing the largest-ever quantity of drugs. I haven’t seen anything like that before,” a resident of Bokeo Province told RFA.

“The suspect must be a big drug lord in the region,” the resident said.

He said that meth use in the area was on the rise, and addicts were contributing to a spike in thefts and robberies.

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Lao police arrested two suspects in a major bust in Bokeo province on Oct. 27, 2021. Credit: Citizen journalist

Another Bokeo resident told RFA that the arrests were not a permanent solution to the area’s drug problem.

“The problem with the drug smugglers is that if two are arrested, three or four more will appear to replace them.”

The record-breaking bust was the third major seizure in Bokeo in a week, following the seizure on Oct. 20 of 10 million meth pills from a truck headed for the capital Vientiane.

They seized six million more meth pills on Monday in the province’s Tompheung district but were unable to make any arrests.

“The suspects might have fled across the Mekong River to the Myanmar side. They are residents of a small island on Mekong River on the Lao side,” a police officer told RFA.

Authorities were not sure if Monday’s seizure was related to Wednesday’s haul of drugs.

“They might be members of the same drug smuggling network,” the officer said.

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Lao police show off drugs and equipment seized in a major bust in Bokeo province on Oct. 27, 2021. Two suspects were arrested Credit: Citizen journalist

Authorities in nearby Luang Prabang province seized three million meth pills and arrested three alleged smugglers in August, while in September, police arrested four men for possession of large quantities of the drug as well as precursor chemicals, meth-manufacturing equipment, and weapons.

In April, the new Lao Prime Minister, Phankham Viphavanh, told the Lao National Assembly that cracking down on drugs is one of his priorities in the next five years.

The illegal trade in methamphetamines grew robustly in Southeast and East Asia last year despite cross-border and movement restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus outbreak, the United Nations counter-narcotics agency said in a report released in June.  

Seizures of meth set a record in 2020, increasing by nearly 20 percent from the previous year, the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported.

Nearly three-quarters of the drugs seized were confiscated in the Lower Mekong countries – Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam – according to the agency.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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