Cablegate: Inl-Funded Counternarcotics Task Force Unit Delivers

DE RUEHHI #1133/01 1710232
R 200232Z JUN 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A) 06 Hanoi 3016 B) 06 Hanoi 748

1. (SBU) Summary. The Counternarcotics Task Force Unit (TFU) in Son
La Province, set up as part of an INL-funded UNODC project, plays a
key role in coordinating interagency efforts in the province's fight
against drug trafficking. Although the project concluded in
December 2006 (Ref A), the coordination mechanism established under
the project has been institutionalized and the TFU continues to
produce significant results. These include previously non-existent
information sharing among law enforcement agencies, proactive
measures to detect drug trafficking such as surveys of trafficking
routes, a higher level of arrests and three times more heroin and
ATS seizures compared with pre-TFU levels. End Summary.

2. (SBU) On June 5, Poloff met with Le Trong Loan, the Director of
the Son La Joint Counternarcotics Task Force Unit (TFU) established
under the UNODC G-55 counternarcotics program. Also attending the
meeting were Vu Xuan Luc, Deputy Chief, Counternarcotics
Surveillance Office, Son La Provincial Border Army and Vu Xuan Dinh,
Officer, Son La Provincial Customs Department. The TFU was
established in 2004 as part of a three-year INL-funded UNOCDC
project to build GVN capacity in the fight against drug trafficking.
(Ref B provides additional background on the Son La TFU.) The
project concluded in December 2006.

Son La on the Frontline in the Drug War

3. (SBU) According to Loan, Son La Province is recognized as a
"complicated drug hot spot," both within the Northwest region and
nationally. The province's drug problem includes both transit of
drugs from Laos to points onward and local consumption, Son La
having one of the highest rates of addiction in the country.
Although the province used to have one of the highest rates of opium
cultivation, Loan said the GVN's poppy eradication efforts have
reduced cultivation to a small area.

4. (SBU) Prior to the creation of the TFU in 2004, the Customs,
Border Guards and counternarcotics police forces, working
independently, investigated roughly 500 cases annually, involving
the arrests of 600 offenders. Despite these efforts and dozens of
drug trafficking-related death sentences handed down annually, Loan
said the drug problem in Son La Province continued unabated.
Provincial authorities took additional steps, including: increased
drug awareness education, more training for counternarcotics police,
more referrals of drug addicts for treatment, poppy eradication
efforts and targeting of illicit drug points-of-sale. It was
because of Son La's acute drug problem, and the province's
determined counternarcotics efforts, that the province was chosen by
the GVN and UNODC to host a TFU.

5. (SBU) During the three years of the project, the province
investigated 2,000 cases involving 3,000 offenders. The project
increased the interdiction capacity of law enforcement forces,
resulting in the seizure of 174 kilograms of heroin, 34 kilograms of
opium and 23,000 ATS tablets. Project training in interdiction and
arrest techniques enhanced the capability of border guards and
counternarcotics police in border districts to make arrests.

6. (SBU) Loan provided examples of "typical" seizures that took
place during the term of the project. In November 2004, an arrest
involving 10 offenders resulted in the seizure of 31 cakes of heroin
(roughly 10.85 kilograms of heroin). The perpetrators confessed to
having previously trafficked a total of 745 cakes of heroin (roughly
260 kilograms) to Hanoi for local consumption. A January 2006 case
resulted in the arrest of 17 offenders and the seizure of 4.5
kilograms of heroin and 1,000 ATS tablets, as well as grenades and
other weapons. These offenders also confessed to having previously
trafficked 34 kilos of heroin to neighboring Hoa Binh Province.
Loan said the TFU had worked on many cases involving 5-6 offenders
with seizures in the range of 3.5-7 kilograms of heroin. In January
2005, Customs officials received a tip about an army driver
transporting heroin into the province. Customs passed the
information to the provincial counternarcotics police and an arrest
was made netting four kilograms of heroin. Prior to the project,
Customs and counternarcotics police had never shared information in
this way.

TFU Continues to Operate Post-Project Completion
--------------------------------------------- ---

7. (SBU) Since the UNODC project wrapped up in December 2006, the
police, border guards and customs forces in Son La continue to
coordinate counternarcotics efforts through the TFU mechanism.
During the first five months of 2007, the Son La TFU was involved in
200 cases involving more than 300 offenders, and seizure of 21
kilograms of heroin, 6 kilograms of opium and 246 ATS tablets. In
February, the Border Guards provided information to the TFU that

HANOI 00001133 002 OF 002

resulted in the arrest of two traffickers with five kilograms of
heroin, again an example of information sharing that did not occur
prior to the TFU, said Loan.

8. (SBU) In a separate meeting, UNODC Program Officer Troels Vester
reported that, despite difficult circumstances, the performance of
the Son La TFU has been outstanding. One of the team members of the
TFU lost two fingers last year when he was shot in the hand by a
drug trafficker upon arrest. On a different occasion, the TFU
encountered personnel mines used for defense by a group of drug
traffickers. Given its lengthy, rugged border with Laos, the
intensity of Son La Province's fight against drug trafficking shows
no sign of abating.


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