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Regional and international partners meet in Vientiane Lao PDR to discuss transnational organized crime impacts and needs

Vientiane, Lao PDR (13 November 2018)
- In response to rapidly evolving and expanding transnational organized crime threats impacting Lao PDR and the surrounding Mekong region, regional experts and policy leaders from the Government of Lao PDR and bordering Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam, along with representatives of international partner embassies, have gathered for two days to discuss the situation in Vientiane with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

With the objective of generating a shared understanding of transnational organized crime challenges impacting the country, UNODC experts and practitioners, and international experts, are guiding discussions and sharing current data and research on the situation and necessary practical responses.

Arranged over one and a half days, the conference is co-chaired by Police Colonel Phengsavanh Thipphavongxay, Director General Police, Lao PDR Ministry of Public Security, and Julien Garsany, UNODC Deputy Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

"We need to reconsider how we approach transnational organized crime challenges impacting Lao at the moment," Mr. Garsany noted in his opening remarks. "The situation has changed a lot in recent years as the country has integrated with its neighbours and some forms of transnational crime have expanded. The country cannot be seen in isolation, and part of the response will need to include better coordination and collaboration with important regional agendas and strategies."

The Mekong region has experienced increasing political and economic integration following the establishment of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Community in 2015, implementation of the ASEAN Vision 2025 plan on regional connectivity, and support to Mekong corridors and cross-border infrastructure. However, along with the positive economic and development opportunities integration has brought to the country, there are clear signs that cross-border criminal activity has also expanded.

"Increased investments in infrastructure are taking place in and around the country," remarked Erlend Falch, UNODC Programme Manager in Lao PDR. Adding, "on the one hand, these improvements are helping create new development and economic opportunities, but on the other hand transnational criminal groups appear to be using the situation to conceal criminal operations and traffic illicit goods."

Over the two days thematic experts will present the latest data on different forms of transnational organized crime and how they relate to Lao PDR including illicit drug production and trafficking, trafficking of wildlife and timber, human trafficking and migrant smuggling, and money laundering. They will also discuss border management and how it can be improved to address a range of challenges.

While all Mekong countries are impacted by transnational crime challenges, Lao PDR is the only country sharing a land-border with all other countries in the region. Complex geography coupled with the porous nature of borders with countries that have larger populations and commercial trade make Lao PDR an attractive place for transnational criminal groups to do business.

"Lao has taken steps to respond to the increasing criminal activity within our borders, however, our central location and the nature of our borders make it challenging to handle these threats alone," commented Director General Thipphavongxay.

While transnational criminal activities continue to thrive in the region, the Government of Lao PDR has recently highlighted some measures the country has taken to address these challenges, including: active membership in the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Drug Control in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region; participation in the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime; and aligning its domestic human trafficking legislation with international obligations. Demonstrating increased awareness and concern of wildlife crime in Lao PDR, experts and Government officials have also recently amended the penal code on transnational organized crime that address environmental crimes.

An important theme of discussions will be increased cooperation and coordination between law enforcement and security agencies including across borders, particularly in economic hubs and zones vulnerable to infiltration by organized crime, to help develop a more effective response to transnational criminality.

A summary report with key recommendations will be compiled for follow-up discussions with Lao PDR leadership and key international partners of Lao PDR and UNODC.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's Regional Programme for Southeast Asia

Click here to learn more about the Mekong MOU on Drug Control