“It is very difficult to prevent drug trafficking into Thailand,” said general Manop Senakun, commander of police in Chiang Saen, the Thai town at the gateway to the Golden Triangle.
It is estimated that at least 1.4 billion yaba tablets — with an estimated street value of $8.5 billion — are being produced each year in the region.
The drug is mostly made in isolated mobile laboratories hidden in the forests of Shan State in Myanmar, which is still the second largest global source of opium after Afghanistan.
Police “tried every way” to stem the flow of narcotics, Manop said. But it was the notorious slaying of 13 Chinese sailors on the Mekong in 2011 that caused regional authorities to launch a concerted crackdown on trafficking.
China, from where the river snakes, has added its weight to the anti-trafficking efforts.
An operation dubbed “Mekong Safe” — led by Beijing with the involvement of its Golden Triangle neighbours — between late April and late June led to the arrest of 2,534 suspects and the seizure of almost 10 tons of drugs, according to Thai authorities.