Stopping the flow: the fight against drugs in the northwestern border

March 03, 2023 - 08:43
The Border Guards and other authorities have launched a series of operations to crack down on drug trafficking networks, resulting in the arrest of numerous traffickers and the disruption of their operations.
Officers of the Chiềng On Narcotics Squad patroling the border areas. — VNA/VNS Photo Trọng Đức

SƠN LA — The scourge of drug trafficking has ravaged villages in the northwest region of Việt Nam as criminal organisations across the border seek to turn the country into a transit hub for drugs.

The Border Guards and other authorities have launched a series of operations to crack down on drug trafficking networks, resulting in the arrest of numerous traffickers and the disruption of their operations.

However, this is a difficult and ongoing battle, with the risk of further losses and sacrifices by border soldiers.

Pha Luông Mountain in Lóng Sập Commune, Mộc Châu District, Sơn La, is adjacent to the Pa Hang - Huoi Hieng village clusters of Sop Bau, Houaphanh, Laos.

The small road leading to the top of Pha Luông winds through jagged rocks and narrow mountain passes, making it a challenging and dangerous route for those transporting drugs.

However, this has not stopped criminal organisations from using the area as a key point on their supply chain, highlighting the need for continued efforts to combat drug trafficking and protect communities from the devastating effects of drugs.

Criminal organisations and groups have cut through the border mountains and forests to reach the summit of Pha Luông from two directions: from Laos through landmarks 268 and 269. They then coordinate with partners on the border to arrange the delivery of drugs to agreed-upon locations.

The drugs are then transported inland to provinces and cities throughout the country or to third countries. Some of the drugs are also distributed to addicts in the border area.

According to a local scout, Lóng Sập has a 23-kilometre border with Laos, making it a "hotspot" for drug trafficking. Together with Lóng Luông in Vân Hồ District and Hang Kia-Pà Cò in Mai Châu, Hòa Bình, these areas form a drug trafficking hub.

Drug smugglers take advantage of poor and vulnerable people, including drug addicts in the border villages, to transport drugs illegally.

As a result, there have been many armed confrontations between drug criminals and law enforcement authorities.

After 13 years stationed in Lóng Sập, enduring countless ambushes and pursuits of drug smuggling groups from across the border, Lieutenant Colonel Phạm Văn Tài, Deputy Commander of the Lóng Sập Border Station, shared that the station currently manages nearly 40km of border road with 21 international landmarks, bordering with Sop Bau district of Laos, a hot spot for drug-related crimes.

The activities of these criminals are extremely cunning and violent: they always carry weapons and are ready to fight back against law enforcement when surrounded.

"As long as they meet a stranger who is not a resident of the area, these drug transport groups are ready to shoot," said Lieutenant Colonel Phạm Văn Tài. "Moreover, they are very flexible about the time of transportation. No one knows which mountain pass they will take, at what time. Therefore, surveillance work is very difficult. If we are not careful, our lives could be in danger."

Drug smugglers have targeted ethnic minorities in border areas to bribe them into becoming drug couriers and storers. Some people who have transported drugs have become drug dealers and stored drugs in their homes. In the area under the management of the border station, out of 18 houses in Bản Buốc Pát, 17 houses have people who have been imprisoned or undergone drug rehabilitation.

"Thanks to the efforts of law enforcement, in 2022, the number of drug-related cases, criminals arrested, and confiscated goods have decreased compared to before," Lieutenant Colonel Phạm Văn Tài added.

According to the Border Guard forces, the drug lords in the border areas such as Tàng "Keangnam," Nguyễn Thanh Tuân, and Nguyễn Văn Thuận have been gradually caught.

However, behind the calm surface lies an imminent threat. The drug crime situation in the Lóng Sập, Mộc Châu border areas remains difficult, complex, and dangerous.

Speaking about this complex situation, Colonel Nguyễn Trung Việt, head of the Border Guard's Northern Narcotics and Crime Prevention Team, said that the border areas of some northwestern provinces are very close to the Golden Triangle - a major drug production area, with Sơn La being the most complicated. The Laotian drug lords still have many drug production facilities located near the border with Lóng Sập and Mộc Châu.

"Not only do they possess weapons and are ready to fight against law enforcement agencies, but drug criminals in this area are also particularly complex when their gangs and criminal networks have blood relationships," said Việt.

To prevent the influx of drug trafficking through the northwestern border, especially in the Mộc Châu border area, for many years, the Border Guard forces have coordinated with other law enforcement agencies to carry out many missions and plans to prevent and eradicate many armed drug trafficking networks.

Only from 2016 to 2022, the Border Guard forces in Sơn La uncovered over 800 cases, arrested more than 1,000 drug criminals, and seized hundreds of kilograms of heroin and other drugs, along with 46 guns and hundreds of bullets.

Faced with the crackdown of law enforcement forces, the recklessness of drug criminals has been exposed.

In Operation 519S on February 2, 2019, the border guard team at Lóng Sập checkpoint coordinated with other law enforcement agencies to catch a suspect named Hoàng Văn Sơn, residing in Bó Sập village, Lóng Sập commune, for illegal drug trafficking and seized 2kg of crystal meth and one grenade.

At the time of arrest, Sơn fiercely resisted and threw the grenade towards the border guard team. Fortunately, the grenade did not detonate. — VNS