HANOI: Vietnam sentenced five members of a drug trafficking gang to death and handed another person life imprisonment for smuggling heroin into the country from neighbouring Laos, state media said Saturday.
The six members of the smuggling gang were found guilty of making ten trips to impoverished Laos and trafficking at least 95 kilos (209 pounds) of heroin into communist Vietnam, the official Thanh Nien newspaper reported.
The leaders of the gang remain at large, the report said, adding the six -- one man and five women -- were put on trial in central Nghe An province on Friday.
The 'golden triangle' region of Laos, Thailand and Myanmar was formerly one of the world's top producers of illicit opium and heroin but has been overtaken by Afghanistan, which now accounts for some 90 percent of global illicit opium production, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
Communist Vietnam has some of the world's toughest drug laws. Anyone found guilty of possessing more than 600 grams of heroin, or more than 20 kilograms of opium, can face the death penalty.
Convictions and sentences are revealed only by local media which is strictly under state control.
In August this year, a Thai woman was sentenced to death for smuggling two kilos of cocaine.
The same week, a 31-year-old Nigerian man was sentenced to death for smuggling 3.4 kilos of methamphetamine from Qatar.
In November, Taiwan police said they had cracked a major drug ring and seized more than 500 pounds of heroin -- with a street value estimated at up to $300 million.
The 600 heroin bricks were discovered in 12 amplifier boxes in a container airlifted from Vietnam.
The bust was one of Taiwan's largest seizure of the drug for 20 years.
Customs officials and airport security staff in Vietnam are still blaming each other for lapses of oversight in the case, which saw the drugs move through southern Ho Chi Minh City airport apparently undetected.
No major sanctions have been announced for officials involved in the case, media reports said.