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Mekong countries promote regional drug strategy on global stage

Vienna (Austria), 14 March 2017
- Mekong countries and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have held a high level briefing at the 60th session of the Commission on Narcotic drugs in Vienna, informing the international community about the importance of formulating effective and coordinated responses. The six countries of the Mekong Memorandum of Understanding on Drug Control (Mekong MOU) - Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam - highlighted the fact that the scale of illicit drug production, trafficking and use they are confronted with is growing, and they need to adjust their collective approach.

The Mekong region - which includes the Golden Triangle - has long been known for opium and heroin, and significant levels of cultivation and production still occur in Myanmar and Lao PDR. However, it has also become one of the largest synthetic drug markets in the world, where methamphetamine in pill and crystal forms are common place. The diversion and trafficking of precursor chemicals, and the emergence of new synthetic drugs are also a challenge.

To better understand the nature of these challenges - a series of assessments have recently been carried out in major economic corridors of the region including the Mekong river, one of the most important conduits for the movement of people and goods between the countries and communities that share the river. In order to identify challenges of needs on the ground, and subsequently shape strategy and direct resources, combined team of UNODC and the four upper Mekong countries conducted assessment starting from Jinghong in China and travelling downstream to the Golden Triangle where Thailand, Lao PDR, and Myanmar come together. Included in the assessment were territories of Special Region 4 in Myanmar and Lao PDR's Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone. 

"This exercise focused on key route and areas pertinent to drug and precursor trafficking, and other transnational organised crimes", said Mr. Wei Xiaojun, of the National Narcotics Control Commission, China. "We seek to build on a review of existing data and analysis on drug and precursor trafficking trends in the region. It is vital for us to understand where the gaps exist in our responses, including in information exchange, our ability to risk profile, our management of borders and port infrastructure, and front line capacities."

The assessment includes a survey of the situation and capacities on the ground, and also rely on interviews with front line officers - who often have the best and most up to date knowledge of trafficking trends and intelligence.

Findings pinpointed areas where more resources need to be allocated, and capacities needed to be strengthened; recommended strategies to better mobilise resources; and included recommendations at both operational and policy levels to make responses more effective.

"Given the varying levels of capacity and differences faced by each country, recommendations need to be targeted at specific locations and problems", said Pol. Maj. Gen. Zaw Win, Chief of Police, Myanmar. "The general principle is to match capacities to threats, while keeping in mind that threats will evolve. This is why we must remain focussed, and continue to build on the work we are doing through the Mekong MOU - and the Government of Myanmar remains committed to doing so."

The Mekong MOU has become recognised as an effective framework for fostering the cooperation required among the six countries for initiatives of this magnitude to be successful.

"The reality is that the technical capabilities of organised crime groups operating in the Golden Triangle have significantly outpaced the technical capacity of front-line officers and agencies to counter them," said Mr. Jeremy Douglas, UNODC Regional Representative for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "These are problems that none of the countries can address alone and this is why the Mekong MOU is so important, and becoming increasingly so. It is only through a mechanism of this nature that unique initiatives such as these assessments can take place".

Click here to learn more about the Mekong MOU.

Click here to learn more about the Commission on Narcotic Drugs.