By Thik Kaliyann
Two Vietnamese nationals arrested at Siem Reap International Airport on Sunday night were officially charged by the provincial court yesterday for attempting to smuggle nearly 80 kilograms of elephant ivory into the country, officials said yesterday.
According to Siem Reap deputy prosecutor Chhun Sophanha, the two suspects had confessed to bringing the ivory, hidden in three bags, from South Africa to Cambodia via South Korea.
“We went to Siem Reap International Airport [on Sunday\ night at 9pm, and we arrested them after we discovered 79.5 kilograms of ivory in their luggage,” Sophanha said, adding that provincial police, customs officials and other authorities had cooperated to make the arrests.
“We charged them with illegally smuggling elephant ivory, and they are now detained in jail,” he added.
Sophanha said yesterday that he was not sure which country the ivory was ultimately destined for, but Siem Reap provincial deputy police chief Um Amra said that the haul had been headed to Vietnam to be put up for sale there. “[The suspects\ said that they planned to transport that ivory to Hanoi,” Amra said.
“This is the first case in Siem Reap province of illegally smuggling ivory since I became a deputy police chief five years ago,” he added, noting that traffickers in his province typically smuggled drugs.
However, two sizeable ivory shipments destined for Cambodia have been seized in Thailand in the past two years. Eleven elephant tusks headed from Ethiopia to Phnom Penh were intercepted there in December of 2012, and a whopping 27 tusks – with a black market value of $498,000 –were seized there last September en route from Angola to Siem Reap.
The growing trade was highlighted in a 2012 report by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, which warned that Cambodia could be replacing Vietnam as the customary transit point for ivory in the region.
“Use of Cambodia’s Sihanoukville Port … as an export destination for ivory from Africa appears to be an emerging substitute trade route to China following the series of large seizures in Vietnam,” the report reads, noting that China and Thailand were the top destinations for large ivory shipments seized in the previous three years.