ASEAN countries team up to take drugs off the street

ASEAN countries team up to take drugs off the street

Tom Abke

Working together to make large seizures of methamphetamine, heroin and cannabis, the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are engaging in a multitude of initiatives to share intelligence and stop the trafficking of illegal drugs.

ASEAN members have confiscated drugs worth tens of millions of dollars while cementing an associationwide code of zero tolerance.

At the sixth ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Drug Matters (AMMD) on October 18, 2018, in Hanoi, Vietnam, the ASEAN ministers responsible for drug matters, the heads of anti-drug agencies and accompanying delegations gathered with Senior Lt. Gen. Le Quy Vuong, deputy minister of public security for Vietnam, who chaired the meeting.

Vuong, in his official statement, acknowledged the continuing threat posed to the Indo-Pacific region by the production and trafficking of drugs as illustrated by “the multiple record seizures of illicit drugs since 2017, the new challenges posed by new psychoactive substances and the use of the internet and parcel posts to facilitate drug activities.”

Media reports of notable seizures in ASEAN countries in 2018 included: U.S. $3 million worth of methamphetamine in Indonesia, smuggled by sea from Singapore in January; U.S. $2.5 million worth of heroin in Vietnam in February; thousands of methamphetamine tablets and several kilos of cannabis captured by airport police in Singapore in July; and methamphetamine worth U.S. $500,000 bound for South Korea that was confiscated at a Malaysian airport in August.

The ministers praised ASEAN’s cooperative efforts, Vuong added, such as the Senior Officials Meeting on Drug Matters, the ASEAN Airport Interdiction Task Force (AAITF), the ASEAN Seaport Interdiction Task Force (ASITF), the ASEAN Narcotics Cooperation Center (ASEAN-NARCO) and the ASEAN Drug Monitoring Network (ADMN).

The meeting of senior officials assembles ASEAN drugs experts each year to review the efforts of five working groups — preventive education, treatment and rehabilitation, law enforcement, research, and alternative development — and to launch new initiatives.

AAITF started in 2010 “to enhance joint operations and investigations among relevant ASEAN drug law enforcement agencies on the rising cases of drug trafficking through the international airports.” ASITF, established in 2016, serves a similar purpose for international seaports and waterway checkpoints. ASEAN-NARCO was launched in 2014 as a coordinating platform for drug-control agencies to work on drug-related cases, specializing in developing its information database on anti-drug activities of ASEAN states. ADMN was formed in 2015 to coordinate the work of the national drug control focal points of ASEAN states.

Ministers at the AMMD reaffirmed their zero-tolerance policy for drug trafficking, Vuong said. “This will provide our people and communities with societies free from the abuse and ill-effects of drugs,” he said. “ASEAN shall continue to be resolute in our position, despite the shift in drug policies seen in other parts of the world advocating decriminalization or legalization of drugs.”

Tom Abke is a FORUM contributor reporting from Singapore.