Cablegate: Nam Can Border Open for Business

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. Hanoi 1043 B. 02 Hanoi 2889

1. (U) SUMMARY. The Vietnam - Laos Nam Can border
crossing in Nghe An province opened to foreigners in
January 2003. There appears to be a frenzy of building
activity in and around the border, but cross border traffic
remains modest. Smuggling of drugs and other contraband in
the border area remains a chronic problem. Vietnamese and
Lao border forces coordinate regularly and there have been
small drug seizures based on cross border cooperation. With
the border crossing internationalized, tourist development
will be more possible. Ref a covered the United Nations
Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Ky Son project. END

2. (U) During a monitoring trip to UNODC's Ky Son project
April 21 - 24, poloff and pol FSN visited the Nam Can border
crossing at the end of National Highway 7 in Ky Son
district. From Mung Xem, the district capital, it is about
15 miles to the border over a winding, hilly, but reasonably
well-paved road.


3. (U) Nguyen Cong Dong, head of the Nam Can border unit,
confirmed that the Nam Can border crossing is now open to
foreigners. Dong said that this plan had been in the works
"for a couple years" and that it is part of the GVN's
overall plan to upgrade border crossings between Vietnam and
Laos. (Note: ref b reported on the Cau Treo border crossing
on Highway 9 in Ha Tinh province and the Lao Bao crossing on
Highway 8 in Quang Tri province. End note.) The crossing
at Nam Can is relatively far from any significant population
center; Vinh, a large city along the main north-south
Highway 1, and its companion port at Cua Lo, are about a six-
hour drive to the east.

4. (U) The Nam Can crossing remains little known and there
has been little, if any, official coverage of this decision
to internationalize it. Dong estimated that, since Nam
Can's opening to foreigners, "about 100 people from 15 to 20
different countries" have crossed, using various modes of
transportation. He recalled a small group of foreigners
even crossing on bicycles. He predicted that, once the
border crossing is better known, the numbers will "increase


5. (U) There appears to be a large amount of construction
activity around the border area, mostly in initial stages.
The last section of the main road is being upgraded and a
large area adjacent to the road is being leveled. Dong
claimed that he was not sure what the construction plans
are, but he guessed that "most likely" there would be
trading center, post office, bank, and hotel built "within
the next five to ten years." Dong said that as far as he
knew, the GVN had not yet declared the area a "border
economic zone" as it has in other Vietnam - Lao crossings
(ref b), but he predicted the area would be so designated
"in the near future."

6. (U) Locals from both sides of the border may cross
freely with permits from the relevant authorities. They may
even stay on the other side for up to 10 days, but must
report to the local police, Dong added. He noted that many
residents (mostly Hmong) have relatives on both sides of the
border and that villages and towns on the Lao side are
"quite similar" to those in Vietnam.

7. (U) Cross border traffic is still modest, according to
Dong. He estimated that about 70 - 100 vehicles cross
daily, but the traffic is not steady. During the two hours
poloffs were in the area, there was little activity on
either side and no vehicles crossed. Dong predicted that
tourist development in Ky Son would now be more possible
with an international border and that more tourist
guesthouses would go up in Mung Xen "within the next couple
years." (There are currently only two.) He also noted that
the UN project is helping to raise living standards in the
area and "should lead to more trade."


8. (U) Smuggling of drugs and other contraband remains a
major problem along the Lao - Vietnam border, including at
Nam Can. Dong admitted that "significant amounts" of
narcotics are entering Vietnam from the Lao side, not just
through the border, but also via the heavily wooded and
steep hills that surround the area. The drugs, which also
include lesser amounts of amphetamine type stimulants (ATS),
mostly originate from the Golden Triangle. While domestic
consumption is growing, even in Ky Son, the bulk of the
narcotics likely continue to be transshipped to other
countries, including the PRC and Australia, he added.

9. (U) Dong admitted that drug smuggling is a "difficult
and complicated" problem. To get at the problem, Dong said
that his forces have taken a number of initiatives,
including information campaigns, using informants, and,
cooperating with the local Customs office as well as the Lao
counterparts. Despite these efforts, results appear rather
meager. In 2002, according to Dong, his forces made only 15
drug arrests and confiscated 37.5 kilograms of opium, 1,112
vials of ATS, and about one kilogram of heroin.

10. (U) In addition to drugs, Dong said that other
contraband make their way down Highway 7. Most of the
smuggled goods originate from Thailand and include small
electronics and appliances, motorbike parts, and cigarettes.
In some cases, drivers drop off goods along the road for
distribution to more remote areas.

11. (U) Dong said that his equipment is "basic, but
generally sufficient." He has drug-testing kits to make
basic tests, but for further analyses, he sends suspected
drugs to a testing lab in Hanoi. Most of his force has
undergone Ministry of Public Security basic drug training,
which he termed "very helpful."

12. (U) Dong claimed that cross border coordination is
"good" and he and his Lao counterparts have "excellent
relations." They meet at least once a quarter, but more
often if necessary. He said cross border information
exchanges have been "helpful" in making drug-related
arrests. Specifically, Dong recounted that in October 2002,
he received a tip from his Lao counterpart about an opium
smuggler crossing into Vietnam via a nearby forest path.
The Lao counterpart provided information regarding timing
and routing that enabled his forces to ambush the

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