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Malaysia arrests Vietnamese man for 'ivory smuggling'

© AFP/File | Malaysian authorities have arrested a Vietnamese man and seized a stash of elephant ivory worth almost $70,000

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - 

Malaysian authorities have arrested a Vietnamese man and seized a stash of elephant ivory worth almost $70,000, an official said Monday, highlighting the country's role as a hub for the wildlife-smuggling trade.

The man was detained Friday at Kuala Lumpur's main international airport after flying into the country from Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, said airport customs chief Hamzah Sundang.

Officials stopped the suspected smuggler -- whose identity was not revealed -- in the airport terminal as he was acting suspiciously.

When they checked his luggage, they found 10 packages containing elephant ivory weighing 36 kilograms (80 pounds) that had been cut into small pieces, which activists said was likely going to be fashioned into jewellery.

Authorities said the haul was worth about 300,000 ringgit (almost $70,000).

The man had been due to travel on to Vietnam, where there is high demand for ivory which is prized locally for decorative purposes and in traditional medicine.

The latest seizure underlines Malaysia's role as a transit point in the global wildlife smuggling trade. Earlier this month, Hong Kong customs officials discovered 7.2 tonnes of ivory tusks in a shipment from Malaysia.

The global trade in elephant ivory, with rare exceptions, has been outlawed since 1989 after populations of the African giants dropped from millions in the mid-20th century to around 600,000 by the end of the 1980s.

Anyone found guilty of importing rare animals or their parts into Malaysia can be jailed for up to three years and fined.

Kanitha Krishnasamy, acting regional director for wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic, hailed the latest discovery by Malaysian authorities, which follows recent seizures of rhino horns and pangolins.

She said the operations were "crippling illegal traders from profiting from this business".

© 2017 AFP