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By Liberty Dones

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Mar. 8) - Saipan and Guam are "lucrative markets" for drugs - usually methamphetamine or "ice" - that originates primarily from China and is shipped through Hong Kong and the Philippines, a newly released report by the U.S. State Department says.

The 2003 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report released by the State Department on March 1, 2004, disclosed that drugs smuggled through these two places-Hong Kong and the Philippines-get into the Marianas, mostly through air couriers and express mail services.

The report said that despite improved enforcement efforts, "some drugs continue to flow through Hong Kong for the overseas market, including the United States."

It cited "several" seizures of drugs in 2003 transiting Hong Kong to the U.S., most notable of which were seizures of Guam-bound couriers and parcels on direct flights from Hong Kong.

"Ethnic Chinese drug trafficking organizations used Hong Kong as a transit point to move methamphetamine from Southern China to Guam and Saipan to take advantage of the lucrative market in these areas," the report said.

It said that traffickers use land routes through mainland China to smuggle heroin into Hong Kong for transit to the overseas market.

The same report said that the Philippines "also serves as a transshipment point for further export of methamphetamine of foreign manufacture to Japan, Australia, Korea, the U.S., Guam, and Saipan."

It said that domestic production of methamphetamine in the Philippines exceeds demand, with most of the precursor chemicals smuggled into the Philippines from surrounding countries, primarily from the People's Republic of China.

Wholesale price of methamphetamine-also called shabu or ice-ranges from $14, 500 to $18,000. The illegal substance sells on the street for twice that amount, the report said.

It said that commercial air couriers and express mail services remain the primary means of shipment to Guam and the mainland U.S., with a typical shipment size of one to four kilograms.

The 2003 INCSR is an annual report by the Department of State to Congress in accordance with the Foreign Assistance Act.

INCSR consists of two parts: drug and chemical control activities and money laundering and financial crimes of key countries.

The report said that Hong Kong's strategic location has made it natural transit/transshipment point for drugs moving from Southeast Asia to the international market, including the U.S.

INCSR said that Hong Kong's law enforcement agencies-"arguably among the most effective in the region"-cooperate with their U.S. counterparts.

"The U.S. government will encourage Hong Kong to maintain its active role in counternarcotics efforts," it said.

Philippine law enforcement agencies, it said, demonstrated continued progress in the war against drugs in 2003.

However, based on the quantity of seizures in 2003, authorities assessed that the Philippines has developed into a major producer of crystal methamphetamine. Evidence suggests links between terrorist organizations and drug trafficking activities.

The report can be accessed at

Aside from "shabu," the Philippines also produces, consumes and exports marijuana. Marijuana is generally cultivated in areas inaccessible by vehicles and/or controlled by insurgent groups.

MDMA, commonly known as ecstasy, is rapidly becoming a popular recreational drug in the Philippines, mostly among young, prosperous adults. The street price for an ecstasy/MDMA tablet is estimated to be $27.

INCSR categorized the Philippines as a major source and transshipment country. Illegal drugs enter the country through seaports, economic zones, and airports.

"With over 36,200 kilometers of coastline and 7,000 islands, the Philippines is a drug smuggler's paradise. Vast stretches of the Philippine coast are unpatrolled and uninhabited. Capitalizing on this phenomenon, drug traffickers use shipping containers, fishing boats, and cargo vessels, which off-load to smaller boats, to transport multiple hundred-kg quantities of methamphetamine and precursor chemicals. Marine interdiction efforts are hamstrung by limited equipment, training, and intelligence coordination between the armed forces and law enforcement," it said.

The Philippines is a party to the 1988 UN Drug Convention, in addition to the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances, the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, and the 1972 Protocol amending the Single Convention, as well as several other international treaties, including the 1996 U.S.-GRP Extradition and Mutual Legal Assistance treaties.

March 8, 2004

Saipan Tribune



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