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September 25, 2017

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Vietnam seizes thousands of chickens smuggled from China in bird flu battle

HANOI, Vietnam -- Authorities in northern Vietnam confiscated 2,500 chickens smuggled in from neighboring China, highlighting the challenges of stopping bird flu, officials said Tuesday.

Authorities confiscated 1.3 tons of chickens found in a truck early Tuesday morning, said Nguyen Thang Loi, director of Lang Son provincial market control department. The chickens will be destroyed, he added.

In neighboring Quang Ninh province, authorities on Sunday confiscated 4.3 tons of chickens smuggled in from China in two separate cases, said provincial chief market inspector Nguyen Dang Truong.

Loi said his staff have confiscated some 50 tons of chickens smuggled in from China so far this year, while authorities in Quang Ninh have confiscated and destroyed more than 60 tons of the birds in the same period.

"We are fighting an uphill battle against smugglers who use two-way radios to deal with us," Loi said.

The H5N1 bird flu virus has hit Vietnam hard this year, ravaging poultry stocks across the country. It has killed 46 people in Vietnam since the virus began spreading in late 2003. Animal experts have blamed unvaccinated birds smuggled across borders for fanning the disease, but local officials have struggled to stop the illegal transport across Vietnam's long porous border with China.

Loi said many local residents who live along the border have been lured to work as porters who haul chickens on their backs and could be paid up to 100,000 dong (US$6.2) a day, a much better income than working as farmers.

Quang Ninh province's chief market inspector Truong said it's very difficult for authorities to completely stop the smugglers, who are motivated by huge profits.

"They bought the chickens for only 10,000 dong (62 U.S. cents) to 12,000 dong (75 U.S. cents) per kilogram in China and sold (for) four to five times as much in Vietnam," he said.

Vietnam had been hailed as a bright spot in Asia for combating bird flu after starting a nationwide poultry vaccination campaign. No human cases were reported in the country in 2006, but the virus flared again in poultry early this year.

The virus has killed at least 200 people worldwide, but remains hard for people to catch. Experts fear it could mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans, potentially sparking a pandemic.

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