COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka authorities publicly destroyed 770 kilograms (1,695 pounds) of cocaine on Monday as the president announced that dates have been set for the country’s first executions in 43 years amid rising alarm over drug-related crime.
Authorities have intensified a crackdown on narcotics to deter smugglers from using the Indian Ocean island nation as a transit point for drug distribution in the region.
On Monday, police officers first liquefied the cocaine, which was packed in more than two dozen bags at a warehouse outside the capital, Colombo. It was then taken to be disposed in a cement kiln.
The cocaine came from four seizures by police and custom officials in 2016 and 2017 in and around Colombo.
Authorities destroyed 900 kilograms (1,980 pounds) of cocaine at a similar event last year.
President Maithripala Sirisena said the military and police will launch a “wide-ranging program” to curb drugs and would eradicate narcotics within two years.
“To curb the illegal drug menace, it is necessary to implement the death penalty,” Sirisena said, adding that the suspension of capital punishment had led to an increase in crime and the spread of narcotics.
“The death penalty will be implemented in the coming days,” he said. “The list has been prepared and we have decided on the date too.”
Rights groups and the European Union have criticized Sirisena’s move.
Harm Reduction International, a drug policy research group, has said there is no evidence that executions deter drug use or trafficking.
Sri Lanka last executed a prisoner in 1976. Currently, 1,299 prisoners are on death row, including 48 convicted of drug offenses.
Police have seized 731 kilograms (1,608 pounds) of heroin, 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine and 1,607 kilograms (3,535 pounds) of marijuana so far this year.
Marijuana is the most widely used illegal drug in Sri Lanka, followed by heroin and cocaine.
Drug-related arrests rose 2 percent in 2017 from the previous year to 81,156.
During the last five years, 189 foreigners were arrested for drug-related offenses, including 54 Indians and 50 Pakistanis.