Indonesia drug czar warns methamphetamine seizures tip of iceberg

Indonesian National Narcotic Agency (BNN) officers inspect methamphetamine packages during a press conference following a raid in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 27, 2017.
Indonesian National Narcotic Agency (BNN) officers inspect methamphetamine packages during a press conference following a raid in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 27, 2017. PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia is probably only stopping a fraction of what could be hundreds of tonnes of methamphetamine flooding in from countries such as China, even after a record seizure this month, its anti-narcotics czar said.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo last week told law enforcement officers to shoot drug traffickers if they resist arrest to deal with a narcotics emergency facing the archipelago of over 17,000 islands.

"We have became a good spot for drug dealers, because it's easy to infiltrate by the sea. There are so many unofficial landing points and small ports, also many islands," Commissioner General Budi Waseso, head of Indonesia's anti-narcotics agency, said in an interview.

Waseso said he believed that 72 international drug syndicates were operating in Indonesia.

The drugs chief said Indonesia would not replicate the bloody war on drugs in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, in which hundreds have been killed, though he praised its aims.

"I never say that we have to follow the Philippines. We have our own laws," said Waseso. "I have to say, though, that Duterte's policy shows he is taking care of his citizens."

Waseso said there was evidence of syndicates re-directing shipments of methamphetamine, known as "shabu" in South-east Asia, towards Indonesia because of the crackdown in the Philippines.

KILL DRUG DEALERS

The drugs chief denied there had been any pressure from above to go outside the law to kill drug dealers, and said a recent series of shootings by police of dealers during arrests was due to greater resistance and better armed traffickers.

President Widodo's comments on shooting dealers came a week after police shot dead a Taiwanese man in a town near the capital Jakarta. Police said the man was part of a group trying to smuggle a record one tonne of crystal methamphetamine into Indonesia and was killed for resisting arrest.

Waseso said China was by far the biggest supplier of methamphetamine to Indonesia. Citing official data from China's National Narcotics Control Commission, he said 250 tonnes of the drug were estimated to have been directed to Indonesia in 2016, while his agency only seized only 3.4 tonnes.

"Whereas shabu is exported not only from China, but from India, Pakistan, Africa, European countries etc. So it must be even more than 250 tonnes," Waseso said.

He said while data in Indonesia was never fully accurate, the number of drug abusers in the country could be 6.4 million, based on a 2016 University of Indonesia survey.

"If one person consumes around one gramme per week, it means they need 300 tonnes per year of shabu," he said.

To meet the threat, Waseso said he was trying to obtain better weapons for officers. He said the drug syndicates, in addition to having better arms, also had anti-wiretapping devices.

Known at times for his offbeat ideas, Waseso repeated a suggestion that drug traffickers could be locked up on a prison island guarded by crocodiles to prevent dealers bribing the guards.

"You think crocodiles can be bribed? Of course not," he said, adding that piranhas could be an alternative.

Waseso also said it might better to put drug addicts on remote islands where they could live off the land and the sea would be the barrier to escape.

"Only in this situation, I think they'll forget about narcotics, because in their mind they will only think about how to get food," he said.