Drug smuggling takes off with direct China-Taiwan flights

Fri Dec 19, 2008 12:59am EST
 
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TAIPEI (Reuters) - About 30 kg (66lb) of smuggled party drug ketamine arrived on one of the first direct cargo flights between political rivals China and Taiwan following six decades of hostile relations, a Customs official said on Friday.

Airport Customs agents in Taipei found the popular powdered hallucinatory drug on Thursday packed into eight boxes on a Chinese cargo plane, customs officials said.

"Our expectation was that direct cargo links could possibly lead to drug smuggling," said Lin Shu-chi, deputy Taipei Customs Office head. "I can't say this was beyond our imagination."

The ketamine was worth T$930,000 ($27,720), Lin said.

Taiwan and China opened direct cargo routes and launched daily direct passenger flights on Monday for the first time since 1949 to help Taiwan investors save time and money on travel and factory shipments.

China has claimed sovereignty over Taiwan since 1949, when Mao Zedong's Communists won the Chinese civil war and Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists (KMT) fled to the island. Beijing has vowed to bring Taiwan under its rule, by force if necessary.

The jump in trade and transit links underscore how quickly ties have warmed under the island's pro-China President Ma Ying-jeou, who took office in May on a pledge to improve cooperation with Beijing.

A 31-year-old Chinese woman was arrested in connection with the ketamine, which was destined for a convenience store in central Taiwan, local media said.

(Reporting by Ralph Jennings; Editing by Nick Macfie)