Vietnam seizes heroin, precursors in major drug blitz

HANOI: Vietnam has arrested 17 people after a blitz on drug crime uncovered major stashes of heroin, cannabis and precursor chemicals, state media said Monday.

Six Vietnamese were arrested in Hanoi after being caught with some 120 kilograms (265 pounds) of heroin hidden inside household gas canisters, the Thanh Nien newspaper said on Monday.

"The suspects confessed to having brought the heroin from northern mountainous Son La province to Hanoi," the report said.

Eleven more people were arrested in a separate operation targeting drugs being smuggled into Vietnam from Laos, the state-run Vietnam News reported.

"Ten Laos nationals and one suspect from Thailand were arrested in the Laos province of Bolikhamxay on July 23," during the "largest ever" joint operation between Vietnamese and Laos police, the report said.

Some 5.5 tons of precursor chemicals and cannabis were seized during the raid, the report said.

It did not specify what the chemicals were for but precusors are needed to manufacture a range of synthetic drugs including methamphetamines -- popular across Southeast Asia.

Communist Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Anyone found guilty of possessing more than 600 grams (20 ounces) of heroin, or more than 20 kilos of opium, can face the death penalty.

Convictions and sentences are usually revealed only by local media, which is strictly under state control.

The "Golden Triangle" region covering part of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand was once the world's top source of opium but has been overtaken by Afghanistan.

Vietnam has sentenced dozens of foreigners to death for drug offences, but it has been decades since a foreign national was executed in the country.

The communist government enforces compulsory "rehabilitation" programs for the country's estimated 140,000 drug addicts, which rights groups have strongly criticised, pointing to allegations of forced labour and abuse.