Thai authorities have seized 200 kilograms of crystal meth hidden inside a replica Easter Island statue awaiting shipment to Taiwan, police said Thursday.
Southeast Asia's so-called Golden Triangle -- the notorious border region of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand -- has long been an infamous hotspot for drug production and trafficking.
Thai drugs officers working with Taiwanese police raided a shipping company in the port city of Laem Chabang, some 50 km (30 miles) southeast of Bangkok, to examine six statue heads made from cement and metal frames.
Officers used an angle grinder, hammers and chisels to cut a hole in one statue, uncovering the drugs hidden inside in plastic bags, according to footage shown in local media.
Khemmarin Hassiri, commander of the foreign affairs division of the Royal Thai Police, told AFP the drugs were due to be shipped to Taiwan.
The statues were originally transported to the kingdom from Taiwan in late 2020 for an exhibition.
Police have sought arrest warrants for Thai and Taiwanese drug suspects connected to the statues.
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime regional representative Jeremy Douglas said the haul was "no surprise".
"Trafficking connections between syndicates active in the Mekong, including Thailand, and Taiwan are longstanding and strong," Douglas told AFP.
"Taiwan is a destination market particularly for meth and ketamine, but is also a trans-shipment point for Japan and other parts of East Asia."
The seizure comes after a UN report published last month said a record one billion methamphetamine pills were seized in East and Southeast Asia last year.
The report also said 79 tonnes of crystal methamphetamine were seized across the region in the same period.
Myanmar's northern Shan state remains the region's primary source of meth.
Experts say methamphetamine production is at unprecedented levels and has been exacerbated by the coup in Myanmar in February last year, which has paralyzed the economy and livelihoods.
Myanmar's lawlessness is providing ideal conditions for illicit drug labs to flourish, with a largely unchecked supply of precursor chemicals flooding in from China.
© 2022 AFP