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Tonnes of ivory being shipped through Togo port

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Togolese authorities said Friday they were seeking to dismantle a trafficking ring and stop tonnes of ivory from being shipped through the country's main port after an unprecedented seizure this week.

Meanwhile, the man arrested after police seized 700.5 kilogrammes of ivory from his shop in Togo on Tuesday said most of the stock came from Chad.

The operation, the first such large-scale seizure by the west African nation's authorities, led to the arrest of Emile N'Bouke, whose shop housed the illicit stock.

Much of the ivory seized had already been transformed into decorative objects.

Authorities said they are seeking to shut down a trafficking network, with large amounts of ivory shipped through the port in the capital Lome headed to Asia.

They also announced that another alleged trafficker from Guinea had been arrested with 25 kilogrammes of ivory.

Kodjo Katanga Yeleneke of the country's anti-trafficking police division said "investigations are continuing to dismantle the rest of the traffickers' network".

"For some time, tonnes of ivory has been leaving the port of Lome destined for countries like Indonesia, China ..."

N'Bouke, the 58-year-old suspect arrested on Tuesday, was presented to journalists on Friday and admitted the ivory belonged to him.

"I brought most of it from Chad," he said after journalists were allowed to ask him questions.

International trade in ivory was banned in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

But traffic has grown in recent years due to strong demand in the Middle East and Asia, where elephant tusks are used in the manufacture of decorative objects and traditional medicine.

Officials in Hong Kong announced on Wednesday that customs had seized an illegal shipment of ivory tusks, rhino horns and leopard skins worth more than $5 million.

The container was officially declared to contain "red cam process wood" exported from Nigeria, another west African nation.

US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki commended the Togolese authorities in a statement on Thursday.

"This arrest represents an important step in protecting valuable African wildlife and investigating criminal organisations," she said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130809/tonnes-ivory-being-shipped-through-togo-port