A record haul of almost 14 tonnes of narcotics has been seized in Laos, police said on Monday, after two double-decker trucks were stopped in the Golden Triangle.
Laos has long been the remotest part of the Golden Triangle, which runs between Laos, Myanmar and Thailand, where poppies, cocaine and marijuana are all grown.
The stash included almost 4,000 kilos of marijuana and 4,600 kilos of coca leaf, which is used in making cocaine. The drugs have a street value of nearly $19m (£14.2m).
The driver and his Asian colleague who was travelling in the second truck were arrested by police who arrived by boat. Police fired shots into the air after the men escaped, police in Pakse said.
Laos is one of Asia’s poorest countries and may already have been supplying China – the market for illegal drugs is hugely lucrative. Police said the duo did not know Laos was a transit point, despite carrying poppies with fresh stems cut in the roadside.
The drug smugglers arrived in Laos on Tuesday on a Thai airline and were travelling from Kunming in China to Laos’s capital, Vientiane. Two helicopters and a number of vehicles were also seized in the operation.
The Golden Triangle encompasses vast tracts of jungle and is known as one of the world’s top opium-producing regions. Though poppy cultivation has declined in recent years, Laos’s location makes it one of Southeast Asia’s principal trans-shipment points for cocaine heading to Europe.
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Poppy cultivation is legal in Laos, where many of the plants are processed into drugs and exported abroad.
In Thailand, nearly 10 tonnes of opium are trafficked from Laos each year, according to Thai government figures.