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Laos concerned over scam ring influx amid China’s Myanmar crackdown

Fears rise over Myanmar-based scam groups relocating to Laos during crackdown, says source.

There has been growing concern in Laos over the potential influx and increase of scam operations pushed away from Myanmar amid the Chinese crackdown, according to a Vientiane-based diplomatic source on Friday. 

In recent months, China has intensified a crackdown on online scams operated by criminal syndicates in border areas of military-ruled Myanmar. 

Operation 1027 in Myanmar’s northern Shan State, launched in October by anti-junta groups, has also advanced China’s quest to eradicate forced labor scam compounds on its border. 

As of late November, authorities in Myanmar had handed over 31,000 suspects to China since authorities from both nations began a crackdown on online scams in September, according to China’s Ministry of Public Security. The majority of those suspects were handed back after Operation 1027.

However, such developments have become an unexpected headache for a neighboring nation, Laos. 

“There have been growing concerns that many of these scam groups might opt to relocate their operations to Laos, especially to its Golden Triangle area,” the source who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons told Radio Free Asia. “Embassies are monitoring the situation closely to protect their own citizens.” 

South Korea was among the first to take action. The country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Thursday that it has decided to impose a travel ban, or the level 4 alert, for the Lao Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone (SEZ), area from Feb. 1. 

Authorities have decided to introduce a travel ban for the zone located in the northwestern province of Bokeo, Laos, due to the continued increase in criminal activities targeting South Korean nationals, according to the ministry.

South Koreans must obtain a special passport-use permit from the government if they wish to stay in areas under level 4 alert, the highest level of the government’s travel warning system. Those who remain in the country without permission will be charged by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with violating the passport law and face criminal penalties.

Initially lured by job ads for roles like Korean language interpretation and cryptocurrency sales, South Korean job seekers are forced into illegal activities such as voice phishing, investment scams, romance scams, and sex trafficking. 

Employers compound the abuse by confiscating passports for “visa processing,” and then demanding payment for travel and living expenses. The victims also suffer from detention and assault, the ministry noted. 

In December, the Lao authorities deported 462 Chinese nationals for offenses including human trafficking from the Golden Triangle SEZ. This follows a previous action in mid-September, where 164 Chinese nationals, including 46 arrested in the Bokeo Special Economic Zone – another region operated by a Chinese tycoon sanctioned by the U.S. for human trafficking – were sent back to China.

Lao residents, while appreciative of the efforts made by authorities, have pointed out that effectively eliminating scamming networks requires a joint approach. They suggest that collaboration between domestic and international security forces across the region is essential, rather than relying solely on the actions of individual countries. 

Yos Santasombat, a professor of social studies at Chiang Mai University in Thailand, told RFA in December that as criminal activity goes largely unchecked within the SEZs in Bokeo province, gangs are expanding their existing operations and adding new services.

“I went to the Golden Triangle SEZ two months ago and I noticed that the place was huge and expanding,” he said at that time. “[As it grows] it might attract other businesses besides gambling and tourism, such as money laundering.”

Edited by Mike Firn and Elaine Chan.


This content originally appeared on Radio Free Asia and was authored by By RFA Staff.


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