BANGKOK: Laos police have made their third-biggest single seizure of illegal drugs by netting 33 million methamphetamine pills, a United Nations official said Saturday.

In recent years the reclusive communist nation has become a gateway for traffickers moving meth out of Myanmar's troubled Shan state across the Mekong River into Thailand as a way to circumvent Thai patrols.

Laos is part of the Golden Triangle -- covering the border areas with Myanmar and Thailand -- that has for decades been a hub for Southeast Asia's lucrative drug trade.

The seizure of 33 million meth tablets and 500 kilograms of ice occurred Friday in the northern province of Bokeo near the notorious Kings Romans Casino, UN Office on Drugs and Crime regional representative Jeremy Douglas said.

The location is also near a Chinese-run Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone that analysts say is a hotbed for sex and wildlife trafficking as well as the drug trade.

Friday's seizure stemmed from information garnered following a smaller capture of 200,000 meth tablets at a Ton Pheung district checkpoint the same day, Douglas said.

The massive shipment was not a surprise, he added.

“Bokeo has been absolutely flooded with drugs the past year and a half,“ Douglas told AFP.

He said drug labs in Myanmar’s Shan state were working overtime to pump out supply, while “northern Laos is now the frontline for the region as traffickers continue to re-route around Thai forces”.

“We’re increasingly concerned about security in Bokeo and neighbouring provinces, and the sense is major organised crime and traffickers more or less do what they want in the area,“ Douglas said.

Photos seen by AFP show green bags of the seized drugs stacked on top of each other. Laos police have made one arrest.

Myanmar has been in chaos and its economy crippled since a military coup in February last year, but synthetic drug production was already booming before the putsch.

Last October, Laos police made the biggest seizure ever of drugs in Asia by netting 55 million meth pills, while a separate raid in January this year uncovered 36 million tablets. Both took place in Bokeo province.

A record one billion meth pills were seized across East and Southeast Asia in 2021, according to a United Nations report in May this year.-AFP