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Tuesday, 30 May, 2000, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Vietnam set for record drugs trial
Twenty-two people are shortly to go on trial in Vietnam in what has been described as the country's biggest drug case.
Police say the syndicate was involved in smuggling hundreds of kilograms of heroin and opium into Vietnam from neighbouring Laos.
Reports from the capital Hanoi say between 30 and 40 people have been arrested so far.
The alleged ringleaders, Nguyen Van Tam, 46, and his nephew Nguyen Van Quyet, 28, are accused of smuggling 565kg of heroin and opium between 1992 and 1999.
They are set to go on trial with 20 co-accused on 13 June in the northern province of Nam Dinh.
If found guilty, they could face the death penalty.
One Vietnamese press report said the defendants also included security officials and government employees.
Deputy police chief Major General Do Hung described it as Vietnam's largest drug case, involving a suspected 120 people in 15 provinces, Thanh Nien newspaper said.
Drug agencies have identified Vietnam as a major trafficking route from the Golden Triangle opium-growing region which covers parts of Burma, Laos, Thailand and south-west China.
Vietnam recently increased its penalties for drug crimes, with trafficking in 100g of heroin now punishable by death or life imprisonment.
But reports say this has had little impact on drug-related crime and the rising number of addicts.
The number of people arrested on drug charges last year increased by 21% from 1998, according to the Ministry of Public Security.
The courts issued at least 86 death sentences in drug cases last year, up from the previous record of 57 in 1998, the state-run media said.
Earlier this year, Nguyen Thi Hiep, a Canadian citizen of Vietnamese descent, was executed for attempting to smuggle drugs out of the country.