Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena (2R) walks past seized cocaine prepared to be destroyed under judicial supervision at a suburb of Colombo on April 1, 2019. Picture: LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP
Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena (2R) walks past seized cocaine prepared to be destroyed under judicial supervision at a suburb of Colombo on April 1, 2019. Picture: LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / AFP

Colombo — Sri Lankan police on Monday destroyed nearly 800kg of cocaine in the presence of President Maithripala Sirisena, who has called for the death penalty for traffickers. 

The drugs were seized in four raids between June 2016 and June 2018.

Sirisena vowed to step up his drug war and promised to import high-tech equipment to detect narcotics at ports and airports, his office said in a statement. The president “reiterated his desire to carry out capital punishment for repeat drug offenders”, the statement said.

Following a visit to the Philippines in January, Sirisena said he wanted to copy President Rodrigo Duterte’s strongarm tactics against illegal drugs. He has vowed to end a 43-year moratorium on the death penalty and execute repeat drug convicts, but is yet to sign a death warrant.

In February, police seized nearly 300kg of heroin worth $17m, the island’s biggest haul, while in transit at a Colombo shopping mall. In 2013, police seized 260kg of heroin brought into the country hidden inside tractors imported from Pakistan. Sri Lanka’s biggest drug haul, by weight, was in December 2016 when police seized 800kg of cocaine. Six months earlier, authorities discovered 301kg of cocaine inside a shipping container.

Authorities believe the Indian Ocean island is also being used as a trafficking transit point. Last week, nine Iranians were arrested transporting 100kg of heroin in a trawler.