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Cambodian authorities nab rhino horn smuggler

Phnom Penh (Cambodia), 28 January 2013
- On 12 December 2012, authorities of the International Airport in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) successfully completed an operation that led to the seizure of six African rhino horns totalling 18 kgs with an estimated final destination value of close to USD 1 million. One Vietnamese citizen was arrested. Cambodian authorities suspect that the rhino horns were poached in Mozambique and heading to China.

Since the seizure, Cambodian authorities have promoted intense investigative activity, leaving many details of this episode restricted and highly confidential.

"This operation is the result of strong cooperation between Customs, Police and Immigration officers based in Phnom Penh and we need to congratulate them for this success," said Gary Lewis, UNODC Regional Representative East Asia and the Pacific. "The investigators behind this operation are also key players in the development of the PATROL Project in Cambodia. We are particularly pleased to see that multi-agency responses to illicit trafficking are paying dividends in Cambodia."

PATROL - the Partnership Against Transnational crime through Regional Organized Law enforcement - already links Countries in the Greater Mekong Sub-region in an effort to counteract transnational organized crime in all its forms, including the smuggling of migrants, drugs, chemical precursors, wildlife and hazardous substances.

Following this arrest, Cambodian authorities alerted front-line officers working at its border checkpoints with Viet Nam of the possibility of new smuggling attempts, this time by car. "Through the Border Liaison Office Mechanism the PATROL project offers an opportunity to promote quick exchange of information along and across the border, among various law enforcement agencies," said one representative of the PATROL Project Advisory Committee involved in this case. "This capacity to act quickly both at central and border level is fundamental to tackle highly dynamic and flexible criminal networks."

This is the first significant seizure of rhino horns smuggled through Cambodia - an indication that wildlife traffickers may be changing their smuggling routes.

In 2012 South Africa lost 668 rhinos due to poaching, according to South Africa authorities -- a nearly 50 per cent increase from 2011, when 448 rhinos were killed and de-horned. Rhino horn smuggling is driven by the high prices paid in final markets like China and Viet Nam where unscrupulous buyers use rhino horns for decoration and as a key ingredient for traditional medicines. The fact that in January 2013 38 South Africa rhinos have already been killed suggests that this emergency is nowhere close to an end.

Established in 2010, PATROL is a joint initiative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Centre for East Asia and the Pacific, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), FREELAND Foundation and TRAFFIC in partnership with the governments of the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

PATROL seeks to improve border security at land borders, sea ports and airports in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (Thailand, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Cambodia, China and Viet Nam).

PATROL objectives include: establishing border liaison offices (BLOs) in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam and training BLO staff, port control and airport specialist response units to fight cross-border crimes related to illegal migration, particularly the trafficking in human beings, wildlife, drugs and materials dangerous to the environment.

PATROL is made possible through the kind
support of Australia - Department of Immigration and Citizenship - and the United States of America