Military police in Svay Rieng province on Friday seized more than 250 kg of elephant tusks stashed inside 10 suitcases in a van heading for the Vietnamese border, officials said.
This is the second such haul in the space of a month, leading to fears Cambodia is becoming a major transit point for the illegal ivory trade.
Police stopped the van because they were suspicious that the vehicle, which was struggling under the weight of its cargo as it negotiated a bumpy dirt road 4 km from the border in Kompong Ro district’s Preah Ponlea commune, may have been smuggling illegal luxury wood.
“But when we searched the van we discovered 10 hidden suitcases filled with 77 pieces of ivory,” said Chheang Mounghong, provincial chief of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Forestry Administration, which assisted in the search.
Provincial military police chief San Bunthan said that the discovery was fortuitous as his officers only acted on a hunch that something about the van was amiss after initially giving the driver the all clear.
“We seized the ivory by accident—when we initially searched the van we found nothing and allowed the suspect to go free, but we decided to stop the van again because it looked too heavy for its load,” he said, adding that the Vietnamese male driver abandoned the van and escaped.
In February, two Vietnamese men were caught in Siem Reap International Airport carrying 79 kg of African ivory inside three suitcases after traveling from South Africa through South Korea.
Customs police said at the time that smugglers were likely seeking out new regional weak spots to reach the lucrative black markets in Vietnam and China—where ivory can fetch $2,200 per kg—after Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra last year stepped up Thailand’s fight against the trade.