Cablegate: Vientiane Illicit Drug Sector Donor Group Begins

DE RUEHVN #0088/01 0391013
R 081013Z FEB 08





E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) In January the Vientiane Illicit Drug Sector
Working Group (IDSWG) conducted its first semi-annual meeting
for 2008. What was once the Vientiane Mini-Dublin Group has
evolved IDSWG, a larger body that includes all of the drug
sector donors in Laos. China, Korea, and the members of ASEAN
are all significant drug sector donors in Laos, but before
the formation of the IDSWG, they were not part of any formal
donor coordination process. While expansion of the group to
include all of the major players is clearly a step in the
right direction, it still produced frustratingly little in
terms of tangible donor coordination. The Embassy, along with
several participating United Nations Programs, hope to see
the formation of a supporting technical working group for the
IDSWG in the near future which could facilitate coordination
more effectively. End Summary.

2. (U) The donor counter narcotics coordination meeting of
2008 was held under the aegis of the new Vientiane Illicit
Drug Sector Working Group (IDSWG). At its last meeting in
June 2007, the Mini-Dublin Group agreed to draft terms of
reference for a new working group, to consist of members of
the Mini-Dublin Group, plus the GOL, other ASEAN members,
countries with memoranda of understanding with ASEAN on drug
control (which include China, India, Korea and Russia), and
an expanded list of donor organizations. The IDSWG is
chaired by the Chairman of the LCDC, Minister Soubanh. The
national co-chair of the Vientiane Mini-Dublin Group
(currently Australia) and the UNODC Country Representative
serve as co-chairs. Countries attending (most represented by
Ambassadors) included: Australia, Burma, Brunei, Cambodia,
China, EU, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Korea,
Russia, Singapore, Sweden, Thailand, and the US.
Organizations attending included: UNDP, UNAIDS, World Food
Program, UNICEF, WHO, World Bank, ADB, and several
governmental and non-governmental donor organizations.

3. (U) In remarks opening the meeting, Minister Soubanh noted
remarkable progress toward making Laos poppy-free, but
cautioned that this situation "remains very fragile" because
of the number of farmers formerly dependent on poppy who have
been left without a viable livelihood. He said that LCDC had
refined the list of 1100 villages that needed such
assistance, to place greater emphasis on the 32 former opium
producing districts that are among the 47 poorest districts
identified by the national poverty elimination strategy. The
GOL needed donor support for sustained assistance in its
action plan for the period 2008-2012 if it were to be able to
perpetuate the substantial elimination of poppy cultivation
that has now been achieved. He said the GOL recognized and
was very concerned by indications, such as frequent arrests
of Lao citizens found smuggling drugs into Vietnam or other
neighboring countries, that transnational criminal
organizations were exploiting Laos for transit of drugs and
other contraband. In December, the National Assembly
approved a new drug law, which should shortly come into
effect. This new law would help strengthen GOL capabilities
to maintain Laos opium-free, prevent or reduce abuse of
methamphetamine and other illegal drugs, and prevent or
punish trafficking and other drug-related crime. LCDC would
be consulting with UNODC to develop a new drug control
strategy based on this law to guide its actions in coming

4. (U) UNODC Country Director Leik Boonwaat briefed the
Group on UNODC's assessment of the current drug and crime
control situation in Laos, and then detailed UNODC's ongoing
and planned activities. He described the recent history of
declining poppy cultivation in Laos, based on UNODC annual
surveys, and described plans for the 2008 survey, which would
begin in February. He agreed with Minister Soubanh's warning
that failure to respond to the requirements of the rural
population for alternative livelihood carried an attendant
danger of resumed poppy cultivation. Many farmers who had
given up poppy had subsisted so far only through
non-sustainable expedients, including destructive one-time
collection of non-timber forest products, consumption of
available livestock, daily wage labor or relocating to other
areas. UNODC had worked with Laos and its neighbors to
promote more effective cooperation against the growing
problem of smuggling of drugs, precursor and essential
chemicals, and other contraband by transnational criminal
organizations through Laos to other countries in the region.
He noted that during the past year, Vietnam had arrested a

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substantial number of Lao citizens found smuggling heroin or
other drugs into Vietnam, some of whom had received death
sentences. Statistics published by the Thai authorities
showed that among foreigners arrested in Thailand for drug
trafficking during 2007, the largest number came from Burma
and Laos.

5. (U) As has been customary in the Vientiane mini-Dublin
Group, the US Embassy was then invited to brief the group on
the USG assessment of the regional drug trafficking
situation, and potential paths forward. The Vientiane
Transnational Crime Affairs Section (TCAS) Officer described
the USG annual estimates of poppy cultivation, which differed
slightly from those prepared by UNODC, but fully confirmed
the steep decline during recent years. He said the USG was
reorienting its remaining opium poppy crop control assistance
to respond more directly to the need of former poppy growers
for alternative livelihoods, and emphasized that this type of
assistance must in many instances be complemented by food
security relief assistance to address compelling requirements
in many areas. The USG also recognized that while measures
now being implemented to facilitate freer movement of goods
and persons among ASEAN members are important and desirable,
both for trade and economic development, they also entailed
significant additional challenges which Lao law enforcement
and border control authorities could address only through
cooperation with neighboring nations and assistance from
international donors.

6. (U) Following these presentations, the WFP resident
representative provided a brief description of WFP activities
during 2007. WFP had just succeeded in meeting its target of
providing food relief assistance in 200 villages, all or
virtually all of which had formerly produced poppy. She
welcomed US recognition of the urgent need to respond to food
security concerns, and said WFP's independent assessments had
confirmed the urgent requirement for such assistance. She
called on LCDC to consult with donors, and to define/map the
villages it considered in need of food relief, alternative
development or other assistance. She said that confusion
over village names and the irregular displacement of many
communities made it difficult to determine where many
potential recipients were physically located. She said that
of the 200 villages WFP had assisted with food relief during
2007, only about a quarter appeared to have been part of the
GOL list of 1100 villages most in need of assistance.

7. (U) The UNODC Country Director proposed that the annual
field observation visit customarily arranged for members of
this Group take place during the first week of March, and
that this year's visit include UNODC and other donor projects
in Oudomxai and Luang Namtha Provinces. The Australian
co-chair said that a report of this meeting would be
submitted at the Dublin Group meeting later this month in

8. (SBU) Comment: The breadth of participation allowed by
the new IDSWG form is a better reflection of the actual
situation in Laos, where many of the most significant donors
in this sector are not members of the Dublin Group. The
level of participation is a welcome indication of the degree
of interest and concern that the participating countries have
in drug and related crime control issues. That said, the
Group in this form is not well-suited to facilitate effective
donor coordination in accordance with the objectives of the
Dublin Group, as the presence of the GOL and non-like minded
donors precludes the sort of frank discussion necessary. The
Embassy intends to continue to pursue, starting with UNODC,
an idea that the WFP resident representative advanced; that
the Group agree to establish a technical sub-group that
together with LCDC can provide some coordination within the
drug sector where little to none currently exists. End

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