Drugs torched in town that provided trigger for first opium war

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 June, 2010, 12:00am

Mainland customs authorities announced yesterday that they would burn more than two tonnes of drugs in the historic town Humen , Guangdong, to mark today's International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.

Some boxes of drugs were burned yesterday morning in eight cauldrons, which a local customs officer said 'symbolised their determination to crack down on the increasing amount of drugs pouring into the mainland from overseas'.

Yesterday's event was staged in Humen because that was where, 170 years ago, senior Qing dynasty official Lin Zexu burned tonnes of opium smuggled by British businessmen, triggering the first opium war.

A senior officer of the General Administration of Customs' anti-smuggling bureau said cocaine, opium, marijuana and more than a tonne of heroin seized by customs branches in Guangdong since early last year would be destroyed in a more environmentally friendly way, using incinerators, yesterday and today.

The officer said drug smuggling had increased in the past few years.

According to official figures, drug cases shot up 16 per cent last year. Police and customs seized more than 28 tonnes of drugs between January last year and May this year.

Meanwhile, more evidence is showing international drug trafficking syndicates' control has become stronger. Customs say that since 2008, the Golden Crescent region, in the mountain valleys of Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan, has surpassed the Gold Triangle in neighbouring Myanmar, Laos and Thailand as the mainland's biggest source of drugs.

A captain with the anti-smuggling team of Guangzhou's Huangpu customs, who was involved last October in the biggest seizure of heroin since 1949, said he felt the shift when more than a tonne of heroin was found sealed in marble floor tiles imported from Karachi, Pakistan.

'I have been doing this job for about eight years and it was the first time we seized so much drugs from the Golden Crescent, which means they [the drug traffickers] have created new networks,' he said.

The customs administration said yesterday that while drug smuggling through freight services could transfer large amounts of drugs at one time, international couriers had become the most popular method to smuggle drug since the second half of last year.

A survey by customs branches in Guangdong found almost three-quarters of the drug smuggling cases discovered in the province involved international couriers.

The senior officer with the administration's anti-smuggling bureau said the public should be alert to packages they were asked to receive on behalf of others.

'If the packages are from the Golden Crescent, Africa, India or Thailand and you do not know the real receivers well, you might need to report it to the police,' he said.

Without labelling Guangzhou an international distribution hub for illegal drugs, he admitted that its many import channels made the Guangdong capital the destination for most drugs smuggled into the mainland.