Governor vows to stamp out opium production in Laos province
A clampdown on opium producers is to be carried out in Laos' Phongsaly province, with the clandestine growing of poppies still widespread in the area.
Phongsaly province governor Khamsan Souvong made the statement at a meeting with US Embassy officials during their visit to the province.
The US delegation, led by Ambassador Ravic Huso, took a two-day trip to Phongsaly to visit the Lao-American Project (LAP), which supports the government policy of eliminating poppy plantations as well as slash and burn cultivation.
Phongsaly is the most mountainous province in the country and also grows the most opium poppies.
In 2000, there were around 3,800 hectares of opium poppy plantations and more than 6,000 opium-addicted people in the province. This year, there are around 80 hectares of plantations, and more than 1,400 opium addicts.
Khamsan said Phongsaly had been declared opium free in 2005, but the cultivation of poppies has continued largely due to the high number of opium addicts.
"Opium production in our province still exists, but on a far smaller scale, and largely for personal use only," he said.
However, the governor said there was little trade in the crop and only two foreign opium traders had been arrested by the local authorities.
"People grow poppies because they get orders from foreigners, so there is illegal trade, but it is very rare," he said.
"Our local authority has arrested two foreign traders, and according to the agreement signed we deported them back to the countries they came from."
Phongsaly has a total land area of 16,270sq km. Eighty six per cent of the land is mountainous and infrastructure is poor. Some 6,400 families who are classified as poor rely on slash and burn cultivation to scratch out a basic living.
In support of the policy and directives of the Lao government to solve the problem, the US government and the US embassy to Laos have funded several infrastructure projects, mostly roads and gravity-fed water systems, and have provided funding to encourage sustainable crop cultivation.
Khamsan said it is very difficult to get people to give up slash and burn cultivation, and also poppy growing, because there is a shortage of investment in permanent job options.
The governor called for the US embassy to continue their support for rural development, especially in road construction, and to provide funding for the rehabilitation of opium addicted people.
Vientiane Times/Asia News Network