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The Mini Dublin Group travels along a major illicit drug trafficking route from Laos to Vietnam to gain firsthand impressions of the drug situation

The Mini Dublin Group travelled along one of the main drug transit trafficking routes between the Lao PDR and Vietnam to see firsthand the devastation caused by drugs to the communities on both sides of the border in early December 2011. The Mini Dublin mission  was led by the Australian Ambassador H.E. Lynda Worthaisong, as the current Chair, and included the German Ambassador, the Head of the EU delegation to the Lao PDR, the Deputy Chief of Mission of  the American and Japanese embassies, the UN Resident Coordinator, the UNODC Representative, the Country Manager for World Bank  together with the Vice Chair of the Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision and supporting UNODC as well as Government officials totaling 25 persons.

The group travelled in eight 4WD off road vehicles on this 782 km road trip from Vientiane via Luangprabang, Oudomxay, Phongsaly over the Annamite range into Dien Bien Phu and by air from Dien Bien Phu via Hanoi to Vientiane.

The Group was met and briefed by the Deputy Provincial Governor of Oudomxay, H.E. Mr. Khampheng Chitavong and the Project staff of the KSPK 26" Increasing Food Security and Promoting Licit Crop Production and Small Farmer Enterprise Development in Lao PDR and Myanmar "Alternative Development Project funded by the German Government. The Group also had the opportunity to meet with villagers and farmers and discuss the benefits they received from the project and why they had stopped cultivating opium poppy.

In Moung Khoua Phongsaly the Group was welcomed by and briefed by the Deputy Provincial Governor, H.E. Mr. Thongset Saenvong. He said that drug trafficking and opium production remained a main challenge for the province. He reported on the situation of drug trafficking especially ATS and heroin. He also mentioned the problem of the resurgence of opium poppy cultivation and requested expanding alternative development assistance to other parts of the province, especially Moung Samphan which remained very remote and inaccessible. The Group was also briefed about the K46 Phongsaly Alternative Development Fund Project which is funded by the Luxemburg Government.

The next day the Group visited the health clinic in Sophoon village in Moung Mai District where AusAID funded harm reduction service delivery activities are being piloted. The Group was able to speak with the health center staff as well as a peer educator on the provision of clean syringes and needles to injecting drug users. This is a major breakthrough for HIV and AIDS prevention utilizing a  harm reduction approach in the Lao PDR

At the Panghok border Check Point the Group was briefed by the border check point commander Colonel Khamphet who reported the drug trafficking situation and mentioned gunfights between drug traffickers which left two dead in Houi Cham. He mentioned that two persons and 30 kgs of opium was seized including 5 bundles of heroin . (about 4 kgs). He mentioned the lack of equipment and funds for intelligence gathering. However he mentioned that the UNODC BLO project had provided 3 computers and a fax machine. He said there was a need for more training of staff and more equipment.

In Dien Bien Phu the Group visited the Moung Phang Commune some 45 minutes from the town where UNODC in corporation with a French NGO Entrepreneurs Du Monde are implementing a community advocacy and  harm reduction service delivery project together with a micro credit component. The  project coordinator Mr. Bon reported that there were some 5000 IDU in 2008 with a HIV prevalence rate of 45% in 2008 that has increased to over 6000 IDUs in 2011 with a HIV prevalence of 70%. He requested that the current harm reduction activities be expanded  to prevent more HIV infections.

Before flying back to Vientiane from Hanoi on the 6 December, the Mini Dublin Group of Laos briefly met with the Chair of the Mini Dublin Group of Vietnam H.E. Alaster Cox and two officers from the Australian Federal Police to exchange impressions.

The Mini Dublin Group gained a much better understanding of the threats from illicit drug production, trafficking, and saw firsthand the devastating effects of cross border trafficking, drug abuse, injecting drug use and HIV for communities on both sides of the border. The Group was also able to discuss with local authorities, villagers, farmers, and drug user. They were able to assess the positive impact of alternative development in improving village livelihoods, reducing poverty, ensuring food security and in preventing the resurgence of opium poppy cultivation. The pressing need to scale up alternative development assistance to more regions in the Lao PDR was clearly underlined.