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Myanmar fiefdom openly selling illegal ivory

Wildlife group says Mong La could be one of Asia's biggest illicit markets

<p>Ivory on sale in a market in Mong La (photo courtesy of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia)</p>

Ivory on sale in a market in Mong La (photo courtesy of TRAFFIC Southeast Asia)

  • Steve Finch, Bangkok
  • Myanmar
  • January 14, 2014
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A tiny fiefdom in northern Myanmar’s Shan state could be one of Asia’s “biggest unregulated ivory markets,” researchers said on Monday.

Wildlife group TRAFFIC announced finding more than 3,300 finished ivory pieces and close to 50 raw elephant tusks openly on sale in 27 shops in Mong La, the largest town in Special Region 4, an autonomous region on Myanmar’s northern border with China.

The ivory is believed to originate from Africa, passing through China – the World’s biggest end market for elephant tusks – and on to Mong La, a casino town popular with visiting Chinese.

“Increasing volumes of ivory in an open cross-border market catering to Chinese consumers is a sure sign that international agreements are not being enforced and action to reduce ivory demand is not effective,” said Chris Shepherd, TRAFFIC's Southeast Asia director.

The ivory market in Mong La likely ranks among the “most openly displayed” in the region, said Professor Vincent Nijman of Oxford Brookes University who worked on undercover investigations with TRAFFIC.

A Western visitor who travelled to Mong La this month said it was simple to buy smuggled ivory in the town.

“I was really appalled to see ivory tusks and animal parts from other endangered species being sold openly in the Mong La market,” said the source, who declined to be named. “It’s time the Mong La authorities did something about this.”

Myanmar has recently established an environmental crime unit but is yet to receive specialized training, while anti-wildlife smuggling capacity-building programs by the UN Office of Drugs and Crime in Shan State have only focused on the Thai border town of Tachilek – Mong La remains outside of Myanmar central government control.

Run by a Shan ceasefire group that made peace with the former military regime in the early 1990s, Special Region 4 uses the Chinese yuan, and electricity and the internet are all supplied from neighboring Yunnan province.

Mong La's reputation for lawlessness has been fueled by its location within the 'Golden Triangle.' Although authorities in Special Region 4 declared the end of opium production in 1997, reports of methamphetamine production have persisted in recent years.

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