BANGKOK (AP) - Authorities in Laos have made their third largest seizure ever of methamphetamine, confiscating a haul of 33 million tablets along with 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) of crystal methamphetamine, an official with the U.N. anti-crime agency said Saturday.
The huge bust came after 200,000 tablets were found Friday night in a truck that was stopped at a checkpoint in the northwestern province of Bokeo, said Jeremy Douglas, the regional representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. That action exposed a trafficking group and its plans, leading to the far bigger seizure following the driver's interrogation.
Douglas pointed out that the truck was stopped near the Kings Roman Casino, which is located in a special economic zone of Laos that operates virtually autonomously of national law. Such zones are found in the neighboring countries of Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia, all of which have loose law enforcement and have struggled with organized crime.
Laos' top drug seizure - also one of Asia's biggest - was in October last year when police in the same province of Bokeo seized more than 55.6 million meth pills in a single raid, along with about 1,500 kilograms (3,300 pounds) of crystal meth, according to reports in Lao media.
The country's second largest seizure, of 36.5 million meth pills, took place in January, also in Bokeo.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime warned in a report in May that the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine is burgeoning in the region. It said the number of meth tablets seized in East and Southeast Asia exceeded a billion for the first time last year.
The 1.008 billion tablets was seven times higher than the amount seized 10 years earlier, the agency said, warning that increased production makes the drug cheaper and more accessible, creating greater risk to people and their communities.
Methamphetamine is easy to make and has supplanted opium and its derivative heroin to become the dominant illegal drug in Southeast Asia for both use and export.
The Golden Triangle area, where the borders of Myanmar - the main methamphetamine producer - Laos and Thailand meet, was historically a major production area for opium and hosted many of the labs that converted it to heroin.
Decades of political instability have made Myanmar's frontier regions largely lawless, to be exploited by drug producers and traffickers. Bokeo borders on Myanmar and Thailand, and the Mekong River runs through it, making it a crossroads for the drug trade.