Some 102 Bangladeshi meth dealers have surrendered to authorities at a pre-scheduled ceremony in a coastal town, officials said Saturday, as a Philippines-style anti-narcotics crackdown sows fear among kingpins.
Bangladesh last year launched a "war" on drugs following a proliferation of illegal substances in the South Asian nation of 165 million people, mostly of cheap methamphetamine pills known as "yaba".
Police said 24 yaba "godfathers", as well as lieutenants and peddlers, surrendered to the country's home minister in Teknaf town – the key gateway for smuggling yaba into the country from Myanmar, where the pills are manufactured by the millions.
The dealers also surrendered 350,000 vanilla-scented, small red yaba pills – whose name comes from a Thai word meaning "crazy medicine" – and 30 illegal firearms.
The country's police chief Mohammad Javed Patwary said authorities would advocate for lesser prison sentences for those who had surrendered, and would "assist" them in returning to normal life.
But he promised "harsh upcoming days" for those who had stayed away.
"Those who are in hiding, don't get carried away. You'll not be spared," he told the mass gathering of several thousand locals who came to witness the event.
Teknaf is situated in Cox's Bazar district – home to around a million Rohingya refugees – bordering Myanmar.
Cox's Bazar is flooded with yaba, with many of the Rohingya refugees used as "mules" for carrying the pills.
The pills have become an easy source of income for the Rohingya, some 740,000 of whom have poured across the border since Myanmar launched a military crackdown in August 2017 that the United Nations (UN) has described as ethnic cleansing.
The mass surrender comes during a concerted crackdown against drug traffickers, which has left nearly 300 people dead, including 40 from Teknaf, and seen about 25,000 arrested since May last year.
On Friday Bangladesh security forces seized 570,000 yaba pills in separate drives in the border region next to Myanmar's northern Rakhine state.
According to the Department of Narcotics Control, some five million people in Bangladesh are drug users with yaba the most popular substance. The country seized a record 53 million yaba pills last year.
In October, authorities made yaba a class-A banned substance and Parliament passed a law allowing the death penalty for dealing in the drug.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte's highly controversial anti-drug crackdown has killed thousands of alleged users and pushers since 2016. - AFP