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Cooperation boosts war on drugs along Mekong

Updated: 2013-05-21 01:08
By CAO YIN in Xishuangbanna, Yunnan ( China Daily)

China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand launch action against traffickers

Cooperation boosts war on drugs along Mekong

Border police inspect luggage at a checkpoint in the Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture, Yunnan province, on May 15. Photo by Chen Haining / Xinhua

Narcotics officers assigned to a four-nation campaign against smuggling on the Mekong River say reducing red tape and improving communication is boosting the war on drugs.

China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand launched the action on April 19, aiming to protect merchant sailors and residents along the major trading route through Southeast Asia.

It involved setting up a command center staffed by drug enforcement agents from all four countries in Yunnan province's Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture.

The base is used to share intelligence and analysis, and plan actions during the campaign, which runs until June 20.

"It is a great benefit to cooperation between the countries," said Lan Weihong, a Chinese officer with the Ministry of Public Security's Narcotics Department, who is stationed at the command center.

Occupying a 20-square-meter room on the second floor of a hotel in Jinghong, the center is staffed by more than 10 officers. Two maps of the Mekong River and the four countries hang on its walls.

"The campaign has helped us learn more about drug trafficking in each country and is convenient for us to get feedback," Lan said. "We can quickly verify information, much faster than before."

Previously, he explained, if Chinese border police uncovered evidence of drug trafficking or needed help from the neighboring countries, they had to draw a draft outline of their investigation and send it to their counterparts over the border.

"Now we sit in the same room and talk directly with each other," he said.

According to the ministry, the campaign could be the start of regular cooperation among the four countries.

Boumphong Inthavong, an officer from Laos, said he hopes it is, explaining that he has gained invaluable experience in his month at the center.

"I used to have to send information involving China to our narcotics bureau first, then communicate with China through our foreign affairs departments," he said.

Taspong Wattanayagorn, from Thailand's Office of the Narcotics Control Board, agreed and said the cooperation has proved the most effective way of fighting drugs in his 18-year career.

"The information exchanges save time," he said. "We talk face to face instead of handing documents between governments, which is better."

His job at the center is to collect clues and relate feedback from the Thai government.

"Language is not a big problem, as we have good translators. I'm also trying to learn Chinese," Wattanayagorn said, showing his determination to make the campaign a long-term effort.

"Thailand will do an evaluation of the cooperation after the campaign ends. If we feel it has been effective in fighting drug trafficking, we'll push on," he said.

Chinese officer Lan agreed and said making the campaign regular needs the backing of all four countries, as well as detailed plans and funding.

So far the campaign has resulted in 560 cases of drug trafficking being uncovered, with 812 suspects arrested, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

Police from the four countries have seized 1,931 kilograms of drugs, including heroin, opium and methamphetamine, commonly known as ice, as well as firearms.

A drug processing plant in Myanmar was also destroyed under the cooperation between Myanmar and China on May 12, which led to the arrest of three suspects and the seizure of 20 kg of ice, according to the Ministry of Public Security. Police from the two countries also confiscated a handgun, and equipment and raw materials to make drugs, it said.

"The campaign is a threat to drug traffickers," said Yu Haibin, a police officer of the department.

"Ensuring safety on the Mekong River is always in the minds of the four countries, and the campaign is a good way to do it," he said. "However, this is just the first step and we need to do a lot more in the future."

Zhang Yan contributed to the story


The ongoing anti-drug campaign is not the first time the four countries have cooperated to prevent crime on the Mekong River.

Police forces set up joint patrols after hijackers killed 13 Chinese sailors on two cargo ships in a Thai section of the waterway on Oct 5, 2011.

At Guanlei Port in Yunnan province's Xishuangbanna Dai autonomous prefecture on Friday, Chinese officers were scheduled to leave on three vessels to join counterparts from Laos for the 10th patrol mission, due to last three to four days.

Cargo ship owner Tao Youming welcomed the action. He witnessed the massacre in 2011 and said he has had great concerns on the river's safety ever since.

"I have also been robbed while transporting goods," said the suntanned 40-year-old, a sailor for more than two decades. "The armed robbers took my cash and cellphone."

He said many speedboats blocked his way back to China in order to get money, which always made him nervous as he sailed on the river.

"Now such danger is hard to see thanks to the patrols and the anti-drug campaign," Tao said. "It has been a long time since I've seen a robbery while sailing."

Liu Yan, 26, a cook on Tao's boat, said those who intend to get on the ship must have their luggage checked and show their identity certificates.

"It's dangerous to pick up strangers on the river, because sometimes they may carry drugs and rob us," she said. "To avoid that, we seldom agree to take them.

"I was frightened after sailing to Thailand, but now I'm relaxed, because I can often see patrol ships on the river," she added. "My husband also works on the boat, which is another reason I'm never scared about the dangers."