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PM commits to keeping opium at bay

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Article from Vientiane Times
Author: Vientiane Times Reporters
Published: 3/07/2009
Newspaper section: International Cooperation

Laos will continue to vigorously implement its policy and measures to prevent the resumption of illicit opium poppy cultivation.

Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh made the comments at an event to mark International Day Against Illicit Drug Abuse and Trafficking, held at the National Culture Hall last Friday. The prime minister spoke to an audience of more than 1,000 people that included senior officials, monks, police officials, diplomats, business people and students. International Day Against Illicit Drug Abuse and Trafficking is held annually on June 26.

The Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC) organised Friday's meeting to mark the event. "To prevent the resumption of illicit opium poppy cultivation, we will secure livelihood resettlement together with the provision of more detailed and focused occupational alternatives for the benefit of former opium poppy growers, based on our Master Plan (2009-2013)," Mr Bouasone said. He said the Lao government would also launch a nationwide anti-drug campaign on a massive scale.

Laos had successfully eradicated opium on a national scale in 2006 through homegrown efforts made in cooperation with friendly countries and international organisations. He said the most important thing was to gradually tackle this scourge in a solid and sustained manner. "Through our efforts, we have witnessed that in some localities, former opium poppy growers of different ethnicities having received advisory education and assistance in adopting alternative occupations, and are now enjoying a better life than before."

At present, the drug issue remained a major threat to the world community. Despite increased measures and recent joint efforts undertaken by a number of countries in combating drug abuse, the trend of illicit drug production, trafficking and consumption continued. "I want the LCDC to pay special attention to mobilizing the overall strength of the entire society, including people from all social strata - youth, women, elderly people and monks - working at the grassroots level in villages and cluster villages. "This will help local youth to participate in antidrug campaigns and gain meaningful livelihoods through the adoption of organised and regular work programmes," he said.

Chairman of LCDC Soubanh Srithirath told the meeting the government was tackling the issue by establishing treatment and rehabilitation centres, as well as vocational training centres for reformed drug addicts. At the same time, the government has actively disseminated information on the dangers of drugs in various forms so as to increase awareness among the public. Students, labourers and other sub-groups were singled out for targeted information on the danger and disastrous impact of drugs, he added. Units had also been set up at border checkpoints to facilitate coordinated action.

"To ensure security and peace along borders, we have cooperated with neighbouring countries to establish 17 border liaison units," he said. These included four with Vietnam, one with China, two with Myanmar, nine with Thailand and one with Cambodia. "We plan to establish one more unit in the south, at the border between Ban Meuangsaen in Champassak province and Ban Tha Peuay in Phavihan province of Cambodia," he said.

These coordinated efforts were getting results. "Recently, we arrested a West African man found in possession of 900 grammes of heroin." UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Representative to Laos, Mr Leik Boonwaat, said Laos had a relatively young population, with over 50 percent of people under the age of 20. About 1.4 million people fall within what is considered the at-risk age group. It was important to address drug abuse by providing young people with sound guidance and employment, to get them involved with activities that provide routine and give life meaning and value.

To provide support to families and reach out to vulnerable communities would provide the vulnerable with the hope of a better future, he added. Mr Leik read a message from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. "Drug abuse can be prevented, treated and controlled. I urge member states to upgrade their preventive interventions and integrate drug treatment into public health programmes. "The World Health Organisation and UNODC continue to work with governments and other partners to scale up drug treatment worldwide," the statement said. Australian Embassy Charge d'Affaires and Acting Co-Chairman of the Mini-Dublin Group, Mr Phillip Molloy, said the international community was in full support.

"The international donor community looks forward to working with the Lao government as Laos moves towards implementing the Master Plan in the coming months and years," Mr Molloy said. "We recognise there will be many challenges in implementing the Master Plan, and I am confident that if we continue to work together, we will be able to make inroads into addressing these challenges through our continued partnership and coordination."