Mr. Soubanh Srithirath, President of the Lao National Committee for Drug Control and Supervision, visited Washington D.C. last week to discuss drug issues and counter-narcotics cooperation between the two countries.
In an exclusive interview with VOA by telephone from New York, Mr. Soubanh said his visit, which was not the first time, was an indication of a great improvement in US-Laos cooperation in the efforts to fight illicit drugs and combat drug trafficking.
Laos, which had been one of the world’s opium poppy grower, declared itself opium-free in 2006. That, the head of the Lao National Committee on Drug Control and Supervision said, was his country's great contribution to the international community's effort to rid the world of all kinds of illicit and dangerous drugs by 2018. Mr. Soubanh said every where he went U.S. officials congratulated him on his country’s success and asked how was it that Laos succeeded while no other country could.
Mr. Soubanh said there were three major contributing factors. First and foremost was his government's unanimous decision and commitment, from the top down to the bottom level, to completely eradicate opium poppy cultivation between 2000 and 2006. Mr. Soubanh said once the decision was made, his government then formulated a strategy as to how to achieve this goal and adopted measures to implement. He added that central to this is the understanding by all people concerned of the danger and the unlawfulness of opium poppy cultivation. So seminars and workshops were held to educate them; and crop substitution projects were carried out. At the same time, as incentives, the government had to implement many development projects in the areas where opium poppy were grown. Mr. Soubanh said roads had to be built so that former opium poppy farmers could take their cash crops to markets, and schools had to be built so that their children could get education.
The third contributing factor, said Laos' drug czar, was international aid, without which his country would not have been successful in its efforts to eradicate opium poppy cultivation. And he thanked the U.S. government for its cooperation and assistance.
Click on our audio files for more of our interview with Mr. Soubanh in Lao.