Border Drug Smuggling Challenges Persist in Laos Despite Cooperative Efforts

Border Drug Smuggling Challenges Persist in Laos Despite Cooperative Efforts
FILE: A Laos police officer prepares piles of seized illegal drugs for a burning ceremony in Xam Neau town, a popular trafficking route (photo credit: Getty Image)

Despite concerted efforts with neighboring countries, Laos continues to grapple with persistent drug smuggling activities along its borders. Recent high-profile arrests underscore the severity of the problem, prompting renewed initiatives to bolster law enforcement and cooperation.

In a recent incident, four Thai nationals attempted to smuggle 1,400 kilograms of methamphetamine from Laos into Thailand. Nong Khai provincial authorities announced their arrests on 10 May.

According to Adul Boonthamcharoen, the commander of Thailand’s 2nd Army Area, the suspects had transported the drugs from Laos and hidden them in a hut located in Ban Muang, a sub-district of Nong Khai. On 11 May, a coordinated raid by soldiers and local police led to the arrest of the suspects, who are aged between 39 and 54 years. Authorities seized 198 bricks of crystal meth, weighing a total of 1,404 kilograms and valued at approximately THB 2.5 billion (around USD 68 million) on the street.

Further investigations led officials to search the suspects’ residences in Sangkhom district, resulting in the seizure of assets worth around THB 7.5 million (around USD 20,447) . These assets included a pickup truck, a tractor, two motorcycles, a house on a 69-square-foot (276 square meters) plot, and several bank accounts. The suspects confessed to using the hut as a storage site, smuggling the drugs across the Mekong River in small batches before consolidating them for further distribution.

This incident is not isolated. On 6 May, Vietnamese authorities arrested six Lao nationals for allegedly transporting 120 kilograms of drugs into Vietnam’s Ha Tinh Province. The arrest occurred in Hong Son district when border guards intercepted a suspicious vehicle bearing a Lao license plate.

While nothing concrete has been done to counter the said issues, Lao and Thai officials had held a cooperation sub-committee meeting in Luang Prabang province back in February this year to address border crimes. 

The Lao Army Television reported on 20 February that the meeting reaffirmed the commitment of both nations to strengthen law enforcement along their shared border, addressing issues such as illegal immigration, human trafficking, and drug smuggling. The meeting only emphasized the importance of educating border communities about legal border crossing and the dangers of illicit activities.

Similarly, Laos and Vietnam held a border cooperation meeting in November of the previous year, resulting in a mutual pledge to combat smuggling, trade fraud, drug trafficking, and the illegal transport of weapons and explosives. Both nations agreed to enhance coordination between border guard forces to prevent sabotage, illegal immigration, unauthorized residence, and illegal labor.

Laos has been facing significant drug-related challenges, especially in the northern Bokeo Province, a region that houses the controversial Special Economic Zone (SEZ) believed to be a drug and human trafficking hub in the region.

It remains uncertain how Laos will enhance its efforts to prevent drug smuggling across its borders. Despite meetings with neighboring countries to address the issue, drug-related crimes persist.