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. Taiwan seizes 1,500 smuggled Chinese birds amid flu fears
TAIPEI (AFP) Oct 15, 2005
Taiwan coastguards have confiscated some 1,500 birds smuggled from the Chinese mainland as the island steps up efforts to guard against deadly avian influenza, officials said Saturday.

The birds, smuggled from the southeast Chinese city of Fuzhou, were found aboard a Panama-registered vessel in the island's central Taichung harbour Friday night, coastguard officials said.

Television footage showed workers wearing full protective gear as they unloaded the birds from the ship.

"The birds, if not endangered species, will be destroyed soon," Lin Fu-an, a senior officer of the Coast Guard Administration, told reporters.

A Chinese sailor surnamed Chen told coastguards that he had struck a deal with a local bird shop over the sale of the smuggled birds at around 500 Taiwan dollars (15.1 US) each, but police suspect some crew may have involved in the illicit trade.

It was the second time Taiwan has seized birds smuggled from China since coastguards launched a dragnet in August to crack down on the illegal trade.

Also on Saturday, police raided an illegal chicken slaughter house in Taichung city.

Center for Disease Control director Steve Kuo said earlier this week that health authorities here will invest some 4.4 billion Taiwan dollars on research and vaccines over the next four years.

The WHO has warned the H5N1 strain of bird flu may mutate, acquiring genes from the human influenza virus that would make it highly infectious, possibly killing millions in a global pandemic.

Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian has asked government agencies to come up with preparatory measures against bird flu, which has been discovered among birds in China and several other Asian countries.

Smuggling is rampant between Taiwan and the Chinese mainland, which are separated by the Taiwan Strait, 170 kilometers (105 miles) in width at its narrowest point.

Bird flu has killed more than 60 people in Asia, the majority in Vietnam, since the first major outbreak in 2003.

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