BANGKOK - Law enforcement officials in Thailand said Monday they seized more than a ton of crystal methamphetamine in a southern province last week that they believed was bound for Australia.
Officials from police and the Narcotics Control Board announced that the 1.2 metric tons (2,646 pounds) of the drug, also known as 'ice,' likely came from Thailand's northern border region, which is part of the Golden Triangle where the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand meet.
Myanmar is a major producer of methamphetamine, which over the past decade has become the dominant illegal drug in Southeast Asia for both domestic consumption and export, supplanting opium and its refined product, heroin. Decades of political instability have made Myanmar's frontier regions largely lawless and exploited by drug producers and traffickers.
The U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime warned in a report in May last year that the production and trafficking of synthetic drugs such as methamphetamine is burgeoning in the region. It said the number of methamphetamine tablets seized in East and Southeast Asia exceeded a billion for the first time in 2021.
The methamphetamine seized last Wednesday in Songkhla province was disguised as packages of tea. Officials announced at a news conference that the three suspects believed to be transporting the drug had escaped, making it hard to know the traffickers' plans.
Wichai Chaimongkol, the secretary general of the Narcotics Control Board, said the authorities had hoped to track the drugs to their destination in Australia to arrest higher-ranking members of the trafficking gang, but the three suspected smugglers in Songkhla became aware that they were being watched.
Thai officials believe the drugs, hidden in a house and two pickup trucks, were to be smuggled to Australia by sea, said Wichai.
Drugs that were seized in recent raids, including in Bangkok in March and April, also were supposedly bound for Australia.
Australian police said in 2019 that they seized 1.6 metric tons of meth at the Melbourne waterfront that was hidden in stereo speakers shipped from Bangkok. In November last year, Thai narcotics officials said that in the fiscal year ending September 2022, they had intercepted drugs bound for Australia 22 times disguised in various forms, one of which involved pillowcases that were coated with methamphetamine.
Last year's U.N. report noted that the 1.008 billion meth tablets seized in 2021 was seven times higher than the amount seized 10 years earlier. It warned that increased production makes the drug cheaper and more accessible, creating greater risk to people and their communities.