Three-day raid that took down major drug lords in Vietnam's heroin valley

By Ba Do, Bao Ngoc, Pham Du   June 29, 2018 | 07:53 pm PT
The drug traffickers were shot down after over 300 officers in armored vehicles stormed their jungle hideouts.

Police in Vietnam's northern province of Son La on Friday concluded a massive raid into the hideouts of two major drug lords, who were both killed following tense resistance.

Nguyen Thanh Tuan, 34, and Nguyen Van Thuan, 35, leaders of major operations that trafficked drugs from Laos via Vietnam to a third country, were shot down during the raid that involved more than 300 police officers.

The mission to take down Tuan and Thuan was launched on Wednesday when police on seven armored vehicles arrived at Ta De Village in the mountainous province's Long Luong Commune.

Police officers quickly surrounded Thuan's roadside house, which had been fortified with high walls, tunnels and bunkers and called for him to surrender. Thuan however ordered his men to stand ground and open fire on the police, forcing officers to shoot him down.

Simultaneously, police approached Tuan's similarly fortified, explosive-rigged hideout, which lies just 600-700 meters (2,000-2,300 feet) away in the middle of Ta De Valley, but failed to persuade him to surrender.

Tuan and his men resisted with gunfire and grenades, while police officers shot back from armored vehicles, knocked down the walls and attempted to flood the tunnel.

Despite Tuan being killed, his two remaining bodyguards continued to stand ground and shoot back at the police throughout Thursday and Friday, before being shot down on Friday afternoon.

Following the raid, police have arrested three of the drug lords' men and seized dozens of guns, as well as hundreds of bullets and a large amount of grenades, from the hideouts.

Weapons seized by police from drug rings in Son La Province during a raid between Wednesday and Friday. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du

Weapons seized by police from drug rings in Son La Province during a raid between Wednesday and Friday. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du

According to the police, Tuan and Thuan were both "especially dangerous criminals" with a total of six arrest warrants against them for the trafficking of more than 890 kilograms of heroin.

Investigators said Tuan had been remotely running his own drug-trafficking rings for over 10 years with subordinates and associates across the country. While multiple of his rings had been busted, he had always managed to evade arrest and set up new business.

Tuan's latest arrest warrant was issued after Hanoi police in July 2015 busted his men while they were selling 170 kilograms (375 pounds) of heroin to another ring headed by drug lord Dang Minh Chau. At a trial in Hanoi in April 2017, Chau was sentenced to life imprisonment while eight men working for her and Tuan got the death sentence.

Thuan meanwhile was wanted by Son La Police from August 2015 for drug possession, smuggling, trade and appropriation, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

Both drug lords were believed to have fled to Ta De five years ago, turned the remote valley into their headquarter and recruited and armed other wanted criminals to serve as their loyal bodyguards.

According to the ministry’s statistics, Long Luong in Son La, which borders Laos and is four hours west of Hanoi, is serving as the hideouts of more than 60 wanted criminals, over 30 of which are for drug-related crimes.

Vietnam is a key trafficking hub for narcotics in and around the “Golden Triangle,” a lawless wedge of land that intersects China, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar and is the world's second largest drug producing region.

The country has some of the world’s toughest drug laws. Those convicted of possessing or smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine face the death penalty. The production or sale of 100 grams of heroin or 300 grams of other illegal narcotics is also punishable by death.

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