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North Korean diplomats accused of smuggling ivory, rhino horn

North Korean diplomats accused of smuggling ivory, rhino horn

 

SEOL: Place Braconnier, in the heart of Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, inherits its name from the general who commanded the first colonial Belgian outpost there back in 1882. But any association with him has mostly been forgotten.

As it happens, braconnier is French for “poacher,” and for decades Place Braconnier—Poacher Square—has been synonymous with the ivory, leopard skins, lion teeth, kudu horns, turtle shells, and other illicit wildlife products sold there.

It was among the stalls lining Poacher Square that Daniel Stiles, an independent conservationist carrying out an ivory field survey in 1999, first spotted Koreans. They were buying up tusks and carvings, which, he assumed, they intended to smuggle back to South Korea for sale. But when he visited South Korea, he was puzzled to find that the nation’s ivory market was almost non-existent.

Only years later did Stiles realize his error: The buyers were almost certainly North Koreans, not South Koreans.

According to historians, political scientists, and various governments, North Korean diplomats are notorious for their involvement in illegal trading. Until now the spotlight has focused mainly on their smuggling activities in Europe and Asia, but a new report reveals that Africa and its wildlife also feature prominently in North Korea’s illicit portfolio.