The Lao People's Democratic Republic is a major transport hub for amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), opium, and heroin, and is a major producer of opium. Geographically, Laos sits at the heart of the regional drug trade in mainland Southeast Asia and shares remote and poorly-controlled borders with Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and China. Economic development and the improvement of road, bridge, and communications networks in Laos have created opportunities for the illicit drug trade to grow.
The Lao government recognizes the threat posed by illegal narcotics production and trafficking and has well-articulated policies to address it. However, the Lao government relies heavily on donor aid for implementation. Lao law enforcement often lacks the resources and knowledge to independently combat internal drug crime. Additionally, Laos must police 3,000 miles of mountain and riverine borders, often very remote, exploitable by drug traffickers.
According to U.S. government estimates, opium poppy cultivation decreased 96 percent between 1998 and 2007 due to aggressive government action and international cooperation, particularly U.S. alternative development assistance. Cultivation, however, has rebounded recently, with an estimated 5,700 hectares (ha) reported in 2015, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Although ATS production within Laos appears to be minor, drug seizures indicate that the volume of ATS smuggled through Laos is substantial.
B. Drug Control Accomplishments, Policies, and Trends
1. Institutional Development
The Lao government's guiding drug control strategy document, the "National Drug Control Master Plan for 2016-2020," was completed in November 2015. The Master Plan provides a long-term vision and strategy to combat drug production, trafficking, and usage (as well as related criminal activities) by addressing the following nine elements:
* Expanding the evidence base for policy making;
* Promoting integrated alternative development;
* Responding to drug use and reducing harm associated with drug use;
* Preventing drug use before it begins (civic awareness campaign nationwide);
* Using law enforcement strategically;
* Effective decriminalization of drug use and smarter sanctions;
* Regulating precursors and expanding/strengthening forensic laboratory;
* Strengthening governmental concerned agencies, regional and international cooperation;
* Developing capacity for drug control.
The Master Plan implements the country's National Drug Law (promulgated in 2008), and called for a budget of $60 million over five years, largely funded by international donors. Since 1989, the United States has provided Laos over $45 million in counternarcotics assistance, which helped to eliminate much of Laos' opium poppy cultivation. In 1989, the U.S. government estimated there were 42,130 ha of opium poppy cultivation. By 2007, that figure had dropped to an estimated 1,100 ha, though UNODC survey data indicates that the area under cultivation has since been slowly increasing.
The Lao National Commission for Drug Control and Supervision (LCDC), which moved in 2016 from a specialized office directly under the Prime Minister to the Ministry of Public Security, is the main coordinating agency for the implementation of the Master Plan, managing efforts to combat the trafficking and abuse of illegal drugs via demand reduction, crop control, alternative development, and law enforcement. The top policy-making body for counternarcotics is the National Steering Committee to Combat Drugs (NSCCD), chaired by the Prime Minister. Since the LCDC's movement to the Ministry of Public Security, the management structures have been in flux.
Lao drug police are organized into 18 provincial Counter Narcotics Units (CNUs), one for each province and one for the capital, Vientiane. Although Laos participates in regional conferences on counternarcotics cooperation, it rarely shares operational information.
Laos does not have a bilateral extradition treaty with the United States. Although Laos does not have a bilateral mutual legal assistance treaty with the United States, it has acceded to multilateral conventions that enable such cooperation, and Laos and the United States have cooperated on such matters on an informal basis.
As of 2016, Laos has signed agreements and memoranda of understanding with 11 countries and four international organizations. Since 2013, Laos has actively participated in "the Safe Mekong Operation Project" together with China, Myanmar, and Thailand. Together they have prosecuted a number of cases, arrested suspects, and seized drugs, vehicles, valuable items, ammunition, and other various contraband.
2. Supply Reduction
During the first six months of 2016, the LCDC reportedly seized approximately 125.7 kilograms (kg) of heroin; 16.4 kg opium; 214.3 kg of marijuana; 23 kg of crystal methamphetamine; and 144 kg of methamphetamine tablets (144 million tablets in total). ATS is the most commonly abused illegal drug in Laos. Supply of ATS is plentiful, and profit margins are higher than for other illegal drugs due to high volume and low production expenses. MDMA (ecstasy) and crystal methamphetamine are available in Vientiane, major tourist destinations, and in the southern provinces.
Laos continues to struggle against an upward trend in the supply of opium, the major narcotic produced in the country. Opium poppy cultivation occurs in provinces bordering China, Vietnam, and Burma, and most poppy is grown in areas that have received little or no development assistance. Marijuana is also produced in Laos; commercial quantities of cannabis for regional export are grown in large plantation-type plots, sometimes financed by foreign customers, primarily in Thailand. Heroin also transits Laos from Burma to regional markets, including in China, Vietnam, and Thailand.
The Lao government continues to support longstanding efforts to assist former poppy-growing farmers by fostering alternative development, mostly financed by donors. Since 2013, major alternative development projects have included:
* A three-year, $2.9 million project in Houaphan province to promote the production of licit crops, funded by the European Union and completed in 2015;
* A two-year, $1.2 million "alternative livelihood" project in Phongsaly province, funded by Luxembourg, completed in 2013; and
* A $3.15 million project to promote licit crop production in Oudomxay province and in Burma, funded by Germany in partnership with the Royal Project Foundation of Thailand, completed in 2015.
In 2016, the U.S. government launched an additional three-year, $1.5 million program in Houaphan province which will consolidate and build upon prior achievements in Houaphanh province through the development and implementation of additional sustainable alternative livelihood practices. These programs seek to primarily introduce viable alternatives to growing opium poppy in the region and also to increase food security and general income of these communities. As of August 2016, the project implementers had hired all core project managers and staff and conducted a baseline survey in the target area.
3. Public Information, Prevention, and Treatment
According to the National Drug Control Master Plan 2016-2020, the Lao government will emphasize rehabilitation, dissemination of legal information and information on adverse consequences of drug abuse, and integration of members of the public in the fight against drugs.
Currently, the LCDC estimates that approximately 70,000 Lao suffer from drug substance use disorders, the majority being youth. Among those, about 80 percent are addicted to amphetamine, 15 percent to opium, and 5 percent to other types of drugs. In order to help persons with substance use disorders recover, Laos has made use of donor funding to supplement the government's budget for refurbishment and construction of some treatment and basic vocational training centres for drug addicts. The Lao government claims to have successfully rehabilitated 3,000 to 4,000 drug users per year in recent years.
Government drug addiction treatment facilities lack the resources to provide evidence-based treatment and post-discharge follow-up. However, the Lao government has begun to introduce community-based treatment for users and actively coordinates with the donor community on improving conditions. To support demand reduction efforts, the United States supports adoption of community based treatment and the study of best practices from different treatment modules for Lao consideration. The United States provides funding to UNODC to develop treatment services for local communities, while concurrently working to integrate these services into Laos' broader public health system. In conjunction with this effort, UNODC and the World Health Organization are also working to share evidence-based practices and the latest research on treatment of substance abuse with the government and treatment professionals. The United States is additionally funding a train-the-trainer program for drug control professionals on Laos' Universal Prevention Curriculum, and supporting vocational training for persons in recovery to help them reintegrate post-treatment as productive members of society.
As a matter of policy, the Lao government does not encourage or facilitate the illicit production or distribution of narcotics or other controlled substances, or the laundering of proceeds from illegal drug transactions. However, low salaries for police, military, and civil servants cause vulnerabilities to corruption, and corruption at many levels continues to undermine implementation of laws and regulations, weaken law enforcement, and hinder government efficacy.
Laos has institutions in place to combat corruption, however, and Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, who assumed office in 2016, has made combatting corruption one of his most highprofile priorities. The State Inspection and Anti-Corruption Authority (SIAA) is the Lao government organization charged with fighting corruption, and as part of its mandate it conducts regular inspections of public agencies and officials and investigations of alleged cases. The Law on Anti-Corruption was enacted in 2005 and amended in 2012 to expand its reach from civil servants to include private enterprises.
Between October 2014 and November 2015, SIAA reports that it reviewed approximately 249 corruption cases, of which none were prosecuted, but resulted in the removal of one governor and the demotion of another governor and seven officials.
C. National Goals, Bilateral Cooperation, and U.S. Policy Initiatives
The United States signed initial agreements to provide international narcotics control assistance in Laos in 1989, and has since signed further letters of agreement and amendments to provide assistance for supply reduction, interdiction, and drug demand reduction cooperation annually.
Most U.S. counternarcotics assistance to Laos supports law-enforcement efforts to disrupt drug trafficking, improve drug treatment, and reduce poppy cultivation. Law enforcement assistance continues to support training and equipment for the Drug Control Department of MOPS, provincial Counter Narcotics Units, and the Lao Customs Department of the Ministry of Finance. U.S. funding also supports a UNODC project on community-based treatment for ATS users. In addition, U.S. programs are assisting to build the capacity of the justice sector and the implementation of the Legal Sector Master Development Plan.
In addition to assistance on counternarcotics, the United States continues to work with the Lao government on related crimes. The U.S. has been regularly engaged with the Lao government on anti-money laundering reforms, and in 2014, the Lao Law on Anti-Money Laundering was passed by the National Assembly. Also in 2015, 64 Lao officials participated in U.S.-funded regional training at the International Law Enforcement Academy in Bangkok. U.S. funding also supported meetings on law-enforcement coordination between Lao officials and foreign counterparts, seminars on customs modernization and interdiction, and workshops on combatting corruption.
Counternarcotics cooperation between Laos and the United States continues to evolve, but the significant gains in poppy eradication and crop substitution of the 1990s and 2000s are increasingly at risk due to factors that include high opium demand. The amount of ATS trafficking and usage in Laos is also troubling. ATS addiction is exceedingly hard to treat and the effort is straining Laos' limited treatment resources. ATS smuggling also weakens controls along Laos' borders with China, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Laos' justice, law enforcement, and security systems lack the resources necessary to counter the rise in narcotics-related crime that has accompanied the country's growing economic development and growing sophistication of criminal groups. Institution-building within the Lao government and basic law enforcement training are needed, emphasizing interdiction, investigation, prosecution, and corrections. Regional law enforcement cooperation among Vietnam, China, Burma, Thailand, and Cambodia is also vital to Laos' fight against drug trafficking.
The United States will continue to work on improving cooperation with Laos as it seeks to address these problems.
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|Title Annotation:||Country Reports|
|Publication:||International Narcotics Control Strategy Report|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2017|
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