Cablegate: Porous Borders, Low Anti-Drug Capacity In

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: 03 Hanoi 1504

1. (U) Summary: Authorities in central Vietnam appear
enthusiastic about supporting the national anti-drug policy,
but have limited capacity and training. The land border
with Laos is porous and difficult to control, making this a
likely route for narcotics traffickers and a possible route
for terrorists. One of these remote border checkpoints
might be an excellent place to apply the INL-funded
Contraband Enforcement Team Program under the new
Counternarcotics agreement. End Summary.

2. (U) On an April 19-21 visit to Quang Binh and Quang Tri
provinces, Poloff met with representatives of the provincial
People's Councils, the counternarcotics police, the Women's
Unions, and the Departments of Labor, Invalids, and Social
Affairs. Officials in both provinces were quick to state
that their provinces had only a "small problem" with drug
use, and noted that all drugs entering the province were
from other provinces or from across the border and usually
carried by addicts. They acknowledged that the land borders
with Laos were in forested mountain areas riddled with
footpaths beyond official control. Only the single
international border gate in each province was staffed for
inspections and immigration controls.

Quang Binh

3. (U) This long, narrow province north of the former
demilitarized zone (DMZ) has a population of 800,000 people,
most of whom are engaged in farming and fishing activities
along the coast. The capital, Dong Hoi, is a fishing town
with tourist potential. According to Nguyen Vinh of the
Quang Binh Department of Foreign Affairs, the road network
near the long border with Laos is "very basic," and trade
and communication are "limited by weak infrastructure."

4. (U) Drug trafficking into or through Quang Binh is
"scattered and small," claimed Colonel Tu Huong Son, deputy
director of the Provincial Police. There are no "big
syndicates" operating in Quang Binh, he added. Since 2001,
Quang Binh police had seized only 28 tablets of ATS, 3.7
grams of heroin, 21 "doses" of heroin, and 19 ampoules of
"additive pharmaceuticals." According to Son, the entire
province has only 70 drug addicts, while police "suspected"
another 167 people of possible drug use.

5. (U) Because the number of addicts in Quang Binh was so
small, there was no need for a treatment center, said Nguyen
An Dung, Deputy Director of the Social Security and Welfare
Office of the Department of Labor, Invalids, and Social
Affairs. DOLISA officials from Quang Binh had visited other
provinces, such Yen Bai and Tuyen Quang in the north, and
"inspected" their drug treatment models, Dung noted. Quang
Binh was following the Yen Bai model of "community
treatment" because it had only a 15 percent relapse rate,
Dung claimed. [Note: this figure is absurd. "Community
treatment" in Vietnam means sending addicts home - often the
same environment where they began using drugs - with an
admonition to stop using drugs and instructions to the
family and local civic organizations to "help" the addict.
It does not work. Some officials have admitted privately
that actual relapse rates for community treatment in Vietnam
exceed 95 percent, a figure that UNODC also feels is
accurate. End note.]

6. (U) Col. Son admitted that because all traffic going
between north and south in Vietnam had to pass through Quang
Binh, it was "likely" that drugs were transiting his
province. However, "we've never found any," he said, "but
we aren't looking at traffic coming through Quang Binh." He
similarly noted that police had never found drugs on any of
the boats that used the harbor in Dong Hoi, but had not
looked for them there, either.

Quang Tri

7. (U) Officials in Quang Tri province, immediately to the
south of Quang Binh, made similar claims regarding the low
number of drug users in the province, but acknowledged that
the border gate of Lao Bao had a high volume of truck cargo
from elsewhere in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Laos,
and Burma, which could easily contain undetected contraband.
Director Hoang Dang Mai of the Quang Tri Department of
Foreign Affairs estimated that "hundreds" of trucks passed
this border gate each day, and that the total traffic in the
first three months of 2004 was 11,500 vehicles. According
to Hoang Van Cu, the Deputy Director of the Provincial
Customs Bureau of Quang Tri, Vietnamese customs officials
performed "random" checks on vehicles, and "sometimes"
received information that led them to check certain vehicles
"more carefully." For example, "sometimes we receive
instructions to check all vehicles from Malaysia," Cu added.

8. (U) Cu and Mai separately acknowledged that because of
the numerous "forest paths and rivers" it was "extremely
hard" to control smuggling across the border into Quang Tri.
To combat this problem, the province had begun to employ two
mobile customs checkpoints that could be deployed farther
from the border, Cu said. One of those teams had caught a
shipment of 5,000 methamphetamine pills in November 2003,
for example. In June 2003, the border guards at Lao Bao had
made a "huge" heroin seizure, Mai noted, using information
developed from "informants" (reftel).

9. (U) Cu added that Quang Tri customs received "frequent"
information on travelers who could be terrorist risks, but
noted that this information was often "general" and did not
have enough specifics to provide an action recommendation
for border control workers. He noted that as long as a
vehicle had a "Vietnamese transit permit," it could continue
right into Vietnam. "Many times," Cu noted, trucks
transiting the Lao Bao border gate were headed for southern
China via the Vietnamese border gate at Mong Cai.

10. (U) Comment: Quang Binh and Quang Tri, located at a
narrow choke point between north and south Vietnam, would be
an excellent place for Vietnamese customs and police to
scrutinize vehicle traffic for contraband, drugs, or
terrorists. Police and customs capacity in these provinces,
however, is so low that there is effectively no action other
than responding to specific, detailed requests from higher
authorities. The Lao Bao border gate, with a high volume of
international truck traffic, would be a good location for
international assistance in improving the capacity of
Vietnamese border forces. In particular, the Contraband
Enforcement Team Program being implemented under the
Counternarcotics Agreement could be applied effectively in
Lao Bao, a place Vietnamese anti-smuggling official Le Thanh
Hien calls a "drug hotspot."

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