Drug ‘godfathers’ to surrender in Bangladesh

Small bags of yaba pills recovered from a passenger bus in a search at a checkpoint along the Teknaf-Cox’s Bazar highway in Teknaf. (AFP pic)

DHAKA: Over 100 suspected meth traffickers are expected to surrender to Bangladeshi authorities this week thanks to a deadly, Philippines-style police crackdown that has sown fear, officials said Tuesday.

Bangladesh in 2018 launched a “war” on drugs following a proliferation of illegal substances in the South Asian nation of 165 million people, mostly of cheap methamphetamine pills called yaba.

Police said those surrendering on February 16 in the southeastern town of Teknaf would include drugs traders, traffickers and several “godfathers”.

Teknaf is known as the country’s main drug smuggling hub and is located in Cox’s Bazar district — home to around a million Rohingya refugees — bordering Myanmar.

“It would be a historic event and a great success in our ongoing fight against drugs,” said Masud Hossain, Cox’s Bazar police chief, told AFP, likening it to the surrender of Colombian Medellin cartel in 1992.

Cox’s Bazar is flooded with yaba with many of the Rohingya refugees used as “mules” for carrying the pills.

The pills have become an easy source of income for the Rohingya, some 740,000 of whom poured across the border since Myanmar launched what the UN says has described as ethnic cleansing in August 2017.

Police said those who will surrender will “not receive any general amnesty”.

“They will be treated according to the conventional law,” Hossain said.

Another police official said the mass surrender was prompted by the crackdown against drug traffickers, which has left nearly 300 people, including 40 from Teknaf, dead and some 25,000 people arrested since May.

“They want to live a normal life. Their profession has become risky due to the ongoing combined operation launched by security forces,” Cox’s Bazar deputy police chief Iqbal Hossain told AFP.

Hossain said some of the drug traders already named by home ministry in its “list” of drug kingpins are also among those surrendering to the authorities.

According to the Department of Narcotics Control, some five million people in Bangladesh are drug users with yaba the most popular substance. The country last year alone seized a record 53 million yaba pills.

In October, authorities made yaba a class-A banned substance and parliament passed a law allowing the death penalty for dealing the drug.

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s highly contentious anti-drug crackdown has killed thousands of alleged users and pushers since 2016.