Viet Nam News
By Đăng Nguyên
KIÊN GIANG —Bags of sugar made in Thailand are piled along Việt Nam’s border, ready to be carried across by boats to waiting Vietnamese motorbike drivers.
Travelling on the muddy smuggling road in Mỹ Đức Commune, Hà Tiên Town in southwestern Kiên Giang is difficult, but each bike carries five or six bags of sugar with ease.
Having been warned of violence if the drivers realised they were being followed and photographed, a Hải quan (Customs) newspaper reporter, on his trip to the area notorious for sugar and tobacco smuggling, hid carefully to document the smugglers.
Ngô Hoàng Thái, head of Kiên Giang Province Customs Department said that local authorities struggled to tackle smuggling as many local residents worked as seasonal porters transporting smuggled goods.
They took advantage of Government policies allowing residents in border areas to travel and trade cross-border goods in small volumes. They crossed the border, buying mangoes or waste materials and selling them to wholesalers in Việt Nam.
Wholesalers even offered them loans to carry out the trades.
Local customs officers have recently found new methods of smuggling, with tobacco hidden in rolls of steel carried on motorbikes.
Provincial authorities reportedly seized about 120 tonnes of sugar and almost 300,000 packs of foreign tobacco since the beginning of this year but the actual volume of smuggled goods must be much higher, Thái said.
Also on the “smuggling tour”, the reporter was told about people liquefying sugar in southern An Giang Province to get Thai sugar into Việt Nam.
Opposite the Vĩnh Xương border gate, in Cambodia, there are at least four workshops liquefying sugar to be brought to Việt Nam.
On average, every 100 kg of crytalised sugar could be used to make 120 kg of liquefied sugar, which traders are willing to pay more for.
Vice head of Vĩnh Xương Bordergate Custom Division, Trần Quốc Việt said that they had to assign three or five staff to stand in front of the border gate and patrol the border gate area round the clock as smuggling could occur at any time.
As soon as the patrollers were gone for a few minutes, the reporter saw a man standing opposite the gate signal towards the border. Tens of drivers replied to his signal by rushing through the gate with sugar or tobacco on their motorbikes.
The Vĩnh Ngươn Ward of Châu Đốc City borders Cambodia’s Gò Tà Mâu. The Gò Tà Mâu market in Cambodia is the gathering place for tobacco, sugar, cosmetics, textiles and wood. It is about 1.5 km from Châu Đốc City. At least ten ferry stations are usually filled with people who travel to Cambodia to gamble and shop. Smugglers mingle with the crowd making it hard for border guards to detect them.
The Tiền River’s high water levels creates favourable conditions for smuggling from Cambodia to Việt Nam.
Crytallised sugar, tobacco, timber and wooden products from Cambodia’s Kaomsano cross the river and arrive in Kô rô ca Commune area opposite to Việt Nam’s Thường Phước Bordergate in Đồng Tháp Province.
Head of the border gate customs division Nguyễn Chí Hòa said smuggling this year had not decreased compared to last year.
The Sở Thượng River from Hồng Ngự District to Hồng Ngự Town in Đồng Tháp Province also sees much tobacco smuggling.
The tobacco, after crossing the river, is carried by motorbikes, running through narrow routes in residential areas.
Local residents are scared of the speeding bikes as the drivers wanted to reach the storehouse at the centre of town quickly. The goods are then transported by coach, bus or motorbike to penetrate domestic market.
The tobacco is hidden in bags labeled rice, fertiliser, animal food or children’s school bags.
A local customs official said that since the beginning of this year, Đồng Tháp Customs detected 104 cases of cross-border smuggling with goods worth VNĐ2.9 billion.
Besides sugar and tobacco, smugglers have eyed Thai liquid paint and farm machines.
The fight against smuggling in southwestern provinces has never been easy. — VNS