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Monday, 6 August, 2001, 01:34 GMT 02:34 UK
Doctors 'smuggled $1m of ivory'
Ivory haul
Ivory is still highly prized in some parts of the world
By Colin Blane in Brussels

Fifteen Chinese doctors who had been working in West Africa have been charged with smuggling ivory after they were detained by police at Brussels airport.

Customs officials intercepted a shipment of elephant tusks in a consignment disguised as personal effects.

The 15 doctors are expected to appear in court on Tuesday.

The doctors were stopped by police as they landed at Brussels airport to change flights.

Secret shipment

The authorities had been waiting for them for five weeks ever since a cargo shipment bound for an address in China had been discovered to contain a 150 kilogrammes of ivory.

Prosecutors in Brussels say the smuggled consignment was made up of more than 70 tusks with a market value of almost $1m.

The doctors - who had been working in Mali - could face up to two years in prison.

Worldwide ban

An international ban on trade in ivory was agreed 12 years ago but there's still a strong demand for it in China, Japan and some Arab countries.

The shipment seized by the Belgian authorities also included animal skins from protected species.

Before the trade in ivory was declared illegal, about 2,000 African elephants were being killed each week.

The 15 Chinese doctors have been charged with smuggling and criminal association.

See also:

10 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
The allure of ivory
29 Mar 00 | Middle East
Egypt seizes record ivory haul
10 Feb 99 | Sci/Tech
Ivory ban lifted
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