Bangladesh has arrested 1,700 suspected drug traffickers in a major sweep as authorities try to curb a booming trade in methamphetamine along the country’s borders.
Police urged drug dealers to surrender their drug stashes -- most notably of “yaba”, a popular street pill made up of caffeine and methamphetamine -- or face the full force of the law.
Of those arrested in a little over a week, more than 1,400 had already been charged with drug trafficking by local courts.
“I advise the retailers, dealers and smugglers to abandon their remaining stocks near our camps. That would be good for them,” said Benazir Ahmed, director general of the Rapid Action Battalion police unit which mainly carried out the raids.
“This is a menace and we hope we’ll overcome it together.” Bangladesh has been struggling to control a huge surge in yaba crossing its southeastern border from Myanmar, where the cheap pills are manufactured by the hundreds of millions.
Officials say the bulk of the drugs entering Bangladesh last year were brought by Rohingya refugees fleeing a military crackdown in Myanmar.
The drugs were being stashed on fishing boats bringing the persecuted civilians into Bangladesh. Some refugees were being used as mules, officials say. Authorities last year seized a record 40 million yaba pills but said an estimated 250-300 million others managed to enter the market.
This year nine million yaba tablets were seized in less than three months as the refugee influx reached its peak. Nearly two million pills were discovered in a single haul. A director at the narcotics control department predicted that $600 million worth of yaba could be sold on Bangladesh’s streets this year.
Authorities want to elevate yaba to a Class A banned substance, meaning traffickers would face the death penalty instead of life behind bars.