Fighting back: Lao government tackles drugs and crime heads on
Vientiane , 26 August 2010 - Last week, at the sixth high-level meeting of the Illicit Drug Sector Working Group, the Lao People's Democratic Republic demonstrated its commitment to a drug control policy that is development-oriented.
The Working Group, which has been in operation since 2007, is a Government-established body co-chaired by the Chair of the Lao National Commission for Drug Control, the Chair of the Mini Dublin Group (currently the Ambassador of Japan) and the UNODC Representative. The group also includes all Ambassadors from the Mini Dublin Group countries, ASEAN countries and countries that have signed drug control agreements (MoU countries) with the Lao PDR, as well as senior high-level Government officials from relevant Ministries , international organizations and NGOs.
The Lao Commission on Drug Control and Supervision and UNODC briefed the Working Group on the current drug and crime situation in the country, highlighting pivotal issues such as the urgent need of accelerated and increased development aid assistance within the framework of the post-opium scenario, countering recent worrisome developments linked to transnational organized criminal syndicates, the rise of Amphetamine Type Stimulants and the recently observed trends of higher HIV prevalence in Injecting Drug Users. These issues can undermine the country's sustainable socio-economic development, as well as its national security.
"The threat of drugs continues to daunt national efforts to combat it. Opium poppy cultivation has been on the increase, by some 26 per cent since 2006," said Leik Boonwaat, UNODC Country Representative in the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
However, an increase in the area under opium poppy cultivation is not the only problem.
Major improvements in the transport infrastructure have transformed the country from a landlocked to land-linked country that is being systematically used by transnational criminal syndicates as a transit and storage hub for large operations. The spill over effect is seeing an accelerated increase in drug abuse, related crime, violence and creates scenarios which will lead to increased corruption and money laundering.
Recently, approximately 21 million and eight hundred thousand Yaba tablets (2.18 metric tons) were seized in one of the largest seizures of methamphetamine in the region, and certainly the largest ever in the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
Vientiane's drug treatment centre is reporting a near 95 per cent admissions rate for methamphetamine dependency treatment. Along the trafficking routes on the northern border, impoverished farmers are are being lured by traffickers to injecting heroin and then used as drug mules. This is a major concern as a recent assessment by UNODC confirms the significantly higher HIV prevalence rates among injecting drug users.
All of these elements combined pose a serious threat to the country and its plans for sustainable development.
The Government is ready to tackle these threats under the National Drug Control Master Plan. At this sixth meeting of the Working Group, it was announced by the Ministry of Planning and Investment that the Master Plan, which was endorsed by the Government in 2009, has now officially been included as a priority area of the Seventh National Socio-Economic Development Plan (2011-2015), the country's overall development mechanism.
Moreover, the Group unanimously agreed that the illicit drugs situation poses a very serious threat to national security and stability as well as socio-economic development.
The Group agreed to fully support the National Drug Control Master Plan and to support efforts to mobilize the USD 72 million in resources
needed for its implementation.