Side event: Statements to Action: Understanding Challenges of the Mekong

Mr. Wei Ziaojun, Deputy Secretary-General, National Narcotics Control Commission, China: I’m honoured to address this forum about this MOU which involves China, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Thailand. It will soon celebrate its 25th anniversary and I congratulate the countries and the service partner, UNODC. This would not be possible without our hard work, a testament to our values and collaboration. On behalf of the countries, I would also like to acknowledge the assistance of the UNODC, including strategic information on international trends and good practice, and policy advisory on relevant implementation of the conventions. This has been important in underpinning the MOU framework. We continue into the future, and we invite the international community to support expansion of the partnership.

When it was first established, the MOU intended to address trafficking and the use of drugs, mainly heroin. We could not have envisaged that it would become the major project that it is today. The MOU and its Subregional action plans covers law enforcement, international legal and judicial cooperation, drugs and demand reduction, drug use and HIV, and development. It continues to help move us towards evidence-based drug policy. In the Mekong region, the ever-increasing interconnectedness of our countries has meant that controlling the illegal flow of drugs has become an increasing challenge for governments that cannot be faced alone. We need to better understand this problem so that our policies are better informed. It is equally vital for us to understand the gaps in our responses, information exchange, establishing risk profiles, and in frontline capacity. We are assessing multiple routes of trafficking and transnational crime, based on existing data and analysis and trends in precursor trafficking. This assessment includes survey of reality on the ground and interviews with frontline officers who often have the best and most up to date intelligence. This allows us to gain first-hand appreciation on where gaps exist and where resources need to be mobilised. We are constantly ensuring that our initiative is addressed in best way possible to fill gaps. By collectively taking on this field assessment we have been able to reach consensus on how our policies can be shaped to respond, also ensures consistency and harmonisation in our partnership.

The Mekong MOU has helped us to move forward, pool information to effectively manage borders, and consider drug problems in way to ensure evidence-based responses applied in a balanced way.

Pol. Maj. Gen Zaw Win, Chief of Police, Myanmar:

It is a pleasure for me to speak to you today about our capacity to address threats in the Golden Triangle. Over the past 26 years, the MOU countries have formulated partnership to work on drug control. It has slowly evolved to address challenges. It has driven the six countries to understand the nature of the drug problem, which is rapidly evolving, to ensure that our responses are effective.

The MOU project helps us to understand the factors and drivers, to assess and pinpoint gaps. The reality is that discrepancies do exist in our capacity to respond, but shared responsibility amongst partners has been instrumental in ensuring the minimisation of such discrepancies. The drug problem means that weakness need to be addressed. In addition to pinpointing capacity gaps, the assessment conducted by the project also helped to address domestic security issues, particularly in select parts of Myanmar where security risks are higher.

Threats have evolved, that is why we must remain steadfast in our efforts. The Government of Myanmar remains committed to the MOU. Myanmar is currently in the process of finalising the national drug control policy that adopts recommendations from the UNGASS outcome document and addresses thematic areas of the MOU. The new policy will focus on prevention, treatment, law enforcement, alternative development and the UN cross-cutting challenges. There is also emphasis on cooperation with our Mekong partners and with other neighbouring countries in the region, supplemented by cooperation with ASEAN, China and India. It is hoped that the best practices and lessons learned under the MOU will continue to help us move forward.

Once again, I congratulate and thank the MOU partners, and the UNODC for their ongoing support.

Mr Jeremy Douglas, Regional Representative, UNODC Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific:

UNODC is proud to be part of this MOU, possible with financial support of China and others, and thank Myanmar for the political support. We also commend Myanmar on the development of its new national drug control policy, which mirrors the UNGASS outcome document.

I’m going to present the context, assessment and response in the region under the MOU. The Mekong MOU started in 1993. It evolved from 4 countries, then Lao and Cambodia was added. It has two levels of consultative bodies: a senior officials meeting that meets each year, every 2 years ministers meet to sign on to plan for next 2 years. So there is active consultation process therefore active ownership from project countries. The sub-regional action plan has 4 thematic areas: drugs and health (supporting access to services in communities), law enforcement cooperation (focusing on organised crimes), legal and judicial cooperation (including proportionate sentencing), and sustainable alternative development (supporting communities).

There is also a strong relationship between the MOU and the CND process, with a CND resolution on the MOU passed in 2014 to recommit the countries to regional cooperation. This is a complex sub-region. There is massive infrastructure between China and the other states. The region is a large producer of opium, mostly in Myanmar and some in Laos. There are linkages between conflict and opium production in the Golden Triangle, particularly in Northern Shan state. The region is also home to the largest methamphetamine market in the world, with seizures of enormous volumes of crystal methamphetamine and methamphetamine pills.

Almost all the countries reporting cases of methamphetamine production. China also reports production of precursor chemicals to produce methamphetamine.

The MOU project conducted an assessment of areas in need of assistance, including corridors on Highway route R3B, the Mekong River, and the Myanmar – China/India borders. As part of this, we travelled along the river from Jinghong and Wan Pong in China, and stopped in Special Region 4 in Myanmar, which is an autonomous region with a commercial port. The port is unique because it is staffed by the region’s own customs offices and manages large volumes of trade, but is also a site of high volumes of trafficking. We also stopped in Mouang Mom, Chiang Khong, and Xuay Xai in the Golden Triangle as part of this assessment. We had briefings at some of the stops to understand the varying capacities and challenges faced by the agencies from each country.

The major findings of the assessment have been published, and include:

  • Natural landscape presents challenge to border management
  • Numerous unofficial border crossings hard to police
  • Opportunities for the drug trade are linked with political developments, territorial control and contestation in Myanmar
  • Significant gaps exist in institutional capacities

The practice recommendations made following the assessment include:

  • Political and policy measures around Myanmar Special Regions, jurisdiction of shifting islands, Lao Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone
  • Physcial capacity and equipment centering border crossings and police checkpoints
  • Agency skills development: profiling trainings and SOP on vessel search
  • Local and international interoperability improvement: standardized reporting, military-civilian agency cooperation

New dimensions for regional and national security include:

  • Increased connectivity, eg. cross-border trade, which leads to improved economic opportunities but also increased challenges for law enforcement

The UNODC Regional Programme for SEA (2014 – 2017) links with the MOU and the Regional Programme, by supporting the Mekong MOU, addressing rapid regional consolidation by supporting frameworks and networks that align with national and sub-regional responses (the Mekong MOU, ASEAN etc), and was developed following consultation and research on current and emerging drugs, crime and terrorism challenges.

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