Record drugs bust for Thai Navy
Thailand’s navy has seized 11 million meth pills from traffickers crossing from Laos via the Mekong River, a record drugs bust from a communist state that is emerging as a key Asian drug route.
Authorities pounced as the boat landed in Nakhon Phanom on the Thai side of the Mekong, which acts as a natural border with Laos.
Poor and remote, Nakhon Phanom is a notorious hub for the smuggling of people, wildlife, and drugs between the two countries.
The navy said Thursday it found bags packed with the caffeine-laced methamphetamine pills — known as “yaba” in Thailand — and arrested a Laotian in his 20s after the rest of the crew jumped into the river to evade capture.
“In total, we found around 11 million pills… the largest amount we have ever seized,” according to Pisit Thongdeelert, commander of the Thai navy’s Mekong River unit which patrols the waterway.
The Monday night bust found 37 bags in the boat, each containing 300,000 pills — which can go for around US$10 (THB320) each in parts of Southeast Asia.
Police estimate the total value at local market rates to be around $100 million (THB3.2 billion).
The tablets were marked with the “999” stamp indicating they were made by the drug labs of the Wa ethnic group, who pump out most of Southeast Asia’s meth from the border zones of Myanmar that are too dangerous and remote for police to patrol.
Laos has become an increasingly well used transit route for drugs, with easily corruptible officials and a long border with Thailand, which is both a large drug market and a route south to Malaysia.
“It’s possible the smuggling gangs have changed their routes because of our crackdown,” Pisit said, of Thai anti-drug operations to the north, which is closest to Myanmar.
Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand are part of the notorious “Golden Triangle” area, the second largest drug producing region in the world.
Analysts believe international crime gangs are also building drug labs in Laos, keen to cash in on the massive amounts of money generated by yaba and ice — crystal meth — in Southeast Asia and beyond.