INDIA JOINED the discussion about the Mekong memorandum of understanding (MoU) on drug control for the first time at a special session on the inter-regional flow of drugs and precursor chemicals in Thailand yesterday.
Senior officials from Cambodia, China, Lao, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam as well as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have gathered in Thailand this week to discuss regional drug policy and strategy to suppress trans-border drug smuggling.
“Rapidly expanding connections in the form of border crossings, ports and airports have expanded the opportunity for organised crime to move drugs and precursors across borders quickly,” said Jeremy Douglas, UNODC regional representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“The involvement of senior officials from India is an important step towards eventual inter-regional collaboration,” he said.
Preliminary data for 2015 indicate that Mekong region seizures of crystal methamphetamine increased significantly to almost 27,000 kilograms, and seizures of methamphetamine pills reached 286 million pills. Heroin seizures were also significant at over 10,000kg.
The latest data also indicate that regional integration is probably exacerbating the problem and amplifying the illegal flow of illegal drugs and precursors within the region, as well as to and from neighbouring regions. Precursor chemicals needed for the production of both methamphetamine and heroin are trafficked into the region in large volumes, mainly from China and India, while drugs are being trafficked in the opposite direction.
Douglas remarked that the abilities of Asean countries and institutions – with varying capacities and approaches – to counter organised criminal groups call into question some aspects of the Asean 2025 Community Vision. And increasingly, neighbours of the region such as India are also being challenged by organised crime groups that take advantage of open borders and have no regard for state sovereignty.
“We are continuing to work towards improving responses, and this meeting provides an update on the commitments made at the Mekong MoU ministerial meeting that took place in Hanoi in 2015,” said Pol Brig-General Kyaw Win, joint secretary of the Central Committee for Drug Abuse Control in Myanmar.
“The participation of the delegation from India will contribute greatly to technical discussions on regional precursor chemical control, and we hope it will contribute to greater engagement in the future between the Mekong region and India.”
In addition to updating progress made under the MoU action plan, the meeting is discussing strategies and activities for the coming year.
Under the Mekong MoU framework that incorporates law enforcement, criminal justice, alternative development and health responses, the six countries have had some success in addressing the production, trafficking and use of illicit drugs.
However, countries in the region also recognise that more needs to be done and new approaches need to be considered – and an important step will be to involve countries neighbouring the region in the discussion.