Strengthened intelligence sharing between Sri Lankan law enforcement authorities and their overseas counterparts has contributed much towards recent successes against narcotics traffickers, senior law enforcement officials say. A spate of high profile detections appear to have also boosted public confidence in anti-narcotics operations, with a substantial increase in the number of tip-offs concerning drug trafficking. [...]


Across the border cooperation gives muscle to battle against drug trafficking


Strengthened intelligence sharing between Sri Lankan law enforcement authorities and their overseas counterparts has contributed much towards recent successes against narcotics traffickers, senior law enforcement officials say.

The recent drugs detection in Dambulla. Pic by Kanchana Kumara

A spate of high profile detections appear to have also boosted public confidence in anti-narcotics operations, with a substantial increase in the number of tip-offs concerning drug trafficking.

Close cooperation between authorities in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh resulted in Bangladesh Police arresting five suspects, including three women, allegedly involved in an international drug trafficking operation.

The arrests were directly linked to last December’s seizure of 278 kilograms of heroin from Mount Lavinia and Dehiwala, as well as the 32 kilograms found at Ratmalana. Three Bangladeshi nationals, including a woman, were arrested by the Police Narcotics Bureau (PNB) in those raids.

Three of the five suspects arrested by Bangladesh Police were women. PNB Director, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) T.C.A. Dhanapala told the Sunday Times that investigations revealed that one of these women had rented the house in Ratmalana from where police recovered 32 kilograms of heroin concealed in cake boxes.

A 23-year-old Bangladeshi woman who had been staying at the house and was allegedly tasked with distributing the heroin to local dealers is currently in remand. The woman who had allegedly rented the house managed to evade authorities and leave the country, but was finally arrested in Bangladesh.

Extraditing the suspects arrested in Bangladesh to Sri Lanka is not possible as no international arrest warrants have been issued for them. In this situation, SSP Dhanapala said the PNB hopes to seek legal advice from the Attorney General’s Department on how to proceed.

The PNB however, is due to send a team to Bangladesh to question the suspects to identify how the network operated in Sri Lanka, the SSP further said.

Intelligence sharing also led police to trace the criminal backgrounds of two US nationals who were arrested along with three others in Kollupitiya on January 22 while allegedly in possession of over 95 kilograms of heroin. According to the PNB, one suspect’s family is linked to money laundering in the US, while the other has been identified as a known drug trafficker.

Meanwhile, Interpol has also issued ‘Red Notices’ on 11 Sri Lankan drug traffickers who have fled overseas. Acting on these notices, four of these drug traffickers– two from Pakistan, one from India and one from Thailand–have already been arrested and extradited to Sri Lanka.

The SAARC Drug Offences Monitoring Desk, which shares information related to drug crimes across the seven SAARC countries, and is located inside PNB Headquarters, has enabled authorities to rapidly share information related to drug trafficking in the region.

Recent large scale detections have dented heroin supplies in the country, resulting in prices of heroin rising significantly in the streets, the PNB head claimed. The detections seem to have also helped boost public confidence in anti-narcotics operations. The ‘1984’ toll-free hotline set up on January 21 for the public to report acts of drug smuggling and related crimes has so far elicited an encouraging response, SSP Dhanapala noted.

The hotline has so far received an average of 50-70 tips per day and 85 calls were made during a 24-hour period from last Wednesday to Thursday, records showed.

A large number of State agencies including local police stations, the PNB, the Special Task Force (STF), Organised Crimes Division, the Sri Lanka Navy, Coast Guard and the Anti-Narcotics Unit Sri Lanka Customs are involved in drug busting operations and enhanced cooperation among these agencies has also helped drug enforcement efforts.

President Maithripala Sirisena has promised to provide all necessary facilities, including high-tech equipment needed by law enforcement agencies to detect drugs. The President recently requested assistance from the Philippines and Singapore to combat drug trafficking in Sri Lanka during his recent visits there.

As for equipment, SSP Dhanapala said authorities need scanners that can screen large shipping containers. He also said that while the PNB has enough test kits to conduct field tests on samples of suspected drugs, such kits aren’t available with individual police stations. “This poses difficulties, especially for police stations outside Colombo as they need to reach out to us to check samples. We are hoping that such kits can be distributed to police stations at some point,” he commented.

Nevertheless, authorities continue to stress that hitting supplies alone will not succeed in eradicating the drug menace unless concerted efforts are made to reduce demand. “Over 95, 000 individuals were arrested in 2018 for narcotics possession. About 99 percent of these are users. Yet, only about 4000 are rehabilitated each year. This is nowhere close enough. We need to rehabilitate at least 10, 000 a year to make an impact,” SSP Dhanapala said, stressing the urgent need for more rehabilitation centres.

He also pointed out that there should be at least a six month monitoring period for addicts who pass out from rehabilitation centres to ensure they are properly integrated back into society after rehabilitation and to ensure they do not relapse. “There is still no such effective mechanism in place, which means there is a clear risk of many going back to drugs.”

When it comes to drug prevention efforts, authorities have given priority towards educating schoolchildren. A model awareness programme is currently taking place in the Gampaha District under the direction of Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Western Province North, Deshabandu Tennakoon. Under the programme, drug awareness campaigns are being conducted for students from Grades 6-12 in all secondary schools in the district during a six month period. Inspector General of Police (IGP) Pujith Jayasundara hopes to implement the programme throughout the country later on.

Grade 8 student first threatened, and then knocked down for exposing drug dealers in Kilinochchi

By Chrishanthi Christopher  

Following the incident of a grade 8 student in Kilinochchi being threatened by drug dealers for daring to expose them during a drug prevention programme conducted by the police, several trade unions gathered in front of the Police station urging them to take action against crimes in the area.

The trade unions included the Ceylon Teachers Union (CTU), civil society unions, citizens’ committees of the Kilinochchi district, Iranamadu Farmers’ Association and the private tuition teachers’ union.

CTU, Kilinochchi, Secretary, T. Sivaruban said that there is a fear psychosis among the public of a backlash when they turn informants.

He said that, in the recent past several incidents of crime had been reported but no action had been taken by police to apprehend the perpetrators.

In one instant, a sports meet that was to be held at the Konavil Madya Maha Vidyalayam on January 29 was postponed when a gang entered the school premises and threatened the teachers in abusive language.

In another incident an attempted abduction of a teacher on the Poonkeri – Mannar main road by a man on a motorbike was foiled by passersby. This happened in between 7 and 7.30 a.m. when she was on her way to school.

Last week, an eighth grader of Konavil Maha Vidyalayam was accosted by three women and threatened for daring to expose sellers of kasippu and ganja, police said.

The incidents of threats and abuse have increased after President Maithripala Sirisena’s programme on drug prevention and eradication was taken to schools. Last week’s incident in Kilinochchi took place after an awareness programme was conducted by the Kilinochchi police in schools in the Mullaitivu district. Meanwhile, in another incident on Thursday involving the same schoolboy, three men on a motorbike had attempted to knock him down while he was riding his bicycle. He was admitted to the Kilinochchi Hospital. with injuries to his left leg. Police who are investigating the accident say the boy’s identity had been revealed by the children of drug peddlers, studying in the same school.

Police also arrested the three women who had threatened the student. They have been remanded until February 8.

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