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Targeting cross-border wildlife smuggling in Myanmar

Yangon (Myanmar), 10 August 2018
- Myanmar is a strategically relevant country in the illegal wildlife trade, nestled between several important source, transit and destination countries. Yet, as transportation infrastructure in the country and the region continues to improve and expand, the importance of Myanmar as a transit location for wildlife smuggling may also increase in the future.

As such, Myanmar's Customs officers have a vital role to play both at national and regional level, and increasing their capacity to detect, intercept and investigate wildlife smuggling is important to disrupt the operations of transboundary criminal syndicates.

In cooperation with the Myanmar Customs Department, UNODC organized a training course on "Risk Profiling to Enhance Interception of Illegal Wildlife Trade", which was held in Yangon from 8-10 August. Participants included Customs officers working at Yangon Port and Yangon International Airport, as well as some Police and Forestry Department officers.

"Building capacity for risk profiling is key for a more effective Customs inspection and screening process," said Mr. That Tun Aung, Director of the Prevention Division of Myanmar Customs Department. "Together with police and forestry officials, we will improve the monitoring of passengers and cargo to combat illegal wildlife trade."

During the course, participants discussed wildlife risk indicators that could be applied for air passengers, air cargo and sea cargo, and created risk profiles. A Thai Customs officer was invited to share the experience of Thai Customs in intelligence-led profiling, and proposed cooperation and information sharing between the two neighbouring Customs authorities. Participants also completed a series of practical exercises involving examination of shipping documents to target wildlife smuggling, and special investigation techniques that can be applied following a seizure.

According to information reported to the ETIS database, over the last 10 years Myanmar authorities have made an average of two small-scale ivory seizures each year, which have included some seizures made at airports; but to date Myanmar has not been involved or implicated in any large-scale ivory seizure. However, in recent years Myanmar has experienced an escalation in elephant poaching for their skins, which are believed to involve a cross-border trade with China for production of elephant skin bead bracelets. The country is also believed to have become a primary route for smuggling rhino horns from India to China.

"Myanmar's forests and biodiversity are being degraded at one of the highest rates in the world, and illegal wildlife trade is a part of that," said Ms. Delphine Brissonneau, the European Union's Attaché in Charge of Cooperation and Capacity Building in Myanmar. "The European Union has been active in assisting Myanmar with drafting the new wildlife law, because having modern legislation to address these issues is essential, along with strengthening law enforcement capacity though training such as this."

"It's important that Customs officers have the capacity to target potential wildlife shipments through the use of risk indicators and risk profiling, rather than relying on random checks and tip-offs only," said Mr. Troels Vester, Manager of UNODC's Country Office in Myanmar.

"The work UNODC is doing with Myanmar Customs officers complements our work with Police and Forestry Department officers to increase investigation capacity, and we are aiming for a situation where authorities are better equipped to respond effectively to the rapidly changing trafficking trends and modus operandi."

This training course was funded by the European Union.

UNODC will be organizing further risk profiling training courses during the coming months, including in Cambodia in August and in Viet Nam in September.

Click here to learn more about UNODC's work on wildlife and forest crime in the region.