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Cambodia emerges as new centre for illegal ivory trade | Asia Pacific

Cambodia emerges as new centre for illegal ivory trade

Cambodia emerges as new centre for illegal ivory trade

Updated 29 July 2014, 11:56 AEST

Thai customs have seized 18 elephant tusks and hundreds of ivory products worth an estimated 300,000 dollars at Bangkok's International airport.

Two people travelling on Vietnamese and Chinese passports have been arrested.

The bust was announced by the Deputy Director of the Thai Customs Department Paisarn Chuenjit.

Mr Paisarn said Thailand was used as a transit point, en route to Cambodia, and the smuggled ivory was not meant for the Thai market.

If convicted, the two suspects could face up to four years in jail.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: James Compton, Asia Pacific director of the wildlife trade monitoring network, TRAFFIC

COMPTON: I think the fact that this bust has taken place at Bangkok's international airport, at Suvarnabhumi, is the biggest point, because Thailand's infrastructure and its connectivity, both for passengers and as well as cargo, coming in and out of Southeast Asia and connecting on to other places, makes it an important transit or relay point in the ivory market. And it's certainly not to deny the fact that Thailand has, along with mainland China, one of the two most significant, illegal ivory markets in-country.

So some of these busts are taking place en route to other places and it's very interesting that these passengers were destined for Siem Reap in Cambodia. But actually, it's the customs authorities in Thailand that are really, the only authorities that can seize ivory, because if it does cross the line into Thailand's national jurisdiction and domestic market, the current status of the law in Thailand means that nobody can really police, regulate or enforce any African ivory coming in that market. So it's quite a complex situation.

LAM: Indeed. But the fact that the Thai authorities have seized the ivory, shows that they, I suppose, are quite in cracking down on the trade. But do you think Thai legislation has to change as well?

COMPTON: Oh definitely. And this has been a process that has taken fifteen years of national and international pressure - trying to get Thailand to reform its legislation. But in this case, yeah, we should be very supportive and congratulate the Thais, because the customs authorities at Suvarnabhumi have been making seizures for a number of years, and that Ethiopian airlines presumably was the carrier - you said it was coming from Ethiopia, if it was Ethiopian airlines, it's been implicated as a major carrier although it's probably not the airlines themselves, but that route services quite a lot of ivory coming from Africa. Cambodia, coming up in this chain, is also something that's been increasingly prevalent. There's been at least three important or significant busts of ivory, both by sea, by air and by road, coming into Cambodia this year. And I think that brings up a lot of questions about how the trade dynamics are changing.

LAM: So the fact that the tusks were headed for Siem Reap, that doesn't come as a surprise to you?

COMPTON: Well, I think you have to look historically and currently, Cambodia has had a very important political and trade relationship with China. And in addition to that, Chinese tourists and business people, coming to Cambodia, have continued to increase in numbers.

I was in Siem Reap only four weeks ago, and at the night market there, was offered ivory bracelets, just as a passing western tourist. The bracelets that were offered to me, I think were most probably fake but the fact that it's going to Siem Reap could be for two reasons - Chinese tourists coming to Siem Reap for visiting Angkor Wat, may be interested in some ivory souvenirs to take home, but certainly we're seeing that the case in Vietnam and in Bangkok itself, where prices are often quoted in Chinese yuan, which certainly suggests that the buyers are not from Vietnam or Thailand necessarily.

LAM: But the two people who were arrested were arrested were travelling on Vietnamese and Chinese passports, so there is a link there, is there?

COMPTON: Well, I think that was going to be my second point, because Siem Reap is an international airport, it's connected to Bangkok.

You can fly from Siem Reap to a number of capitals in the region, and saying once again, that both Vietnam and China have good trade links to Cambodia. If it's a standing ground as the Cambodian authorities have been saying in previous seizures this year, it's a standing ground being exploited as a way to get into larger markets in Vietnam and China, that's entirely possible, but at this point, from Traffic's perspective, we don't have enough detailed analysis of that.

It's just that Cambodia has come up as a point connectivity from shipping coming from Malaysia, from a bust in Hong Kong in June, which was involving ivory that was coming via South Korea, into Hong Kong and destined for Cambodia, and then also, by land, coming across checkpoint from southern Vietnam, into Cambodia.

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