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CHINESE DINOSAUR EGGS



Dinosaur eggs are China's latest smuggled export
 HONG KONG, March 21 (Reuter) - Want to buy a dinosaur egg? Hong Kong seems
to be the place, customs said on Thursday.
 Hong Kong customs officers who are usually beavering away looking for
heroin, pirated software and compact disks or fake consumer goods, this week
seized a large shipment of fossilised dinosaur eggs being smuggled into the
territory from China.
 "This is the third time in half a year we have found them, but this time it
was the biggest consignment," customs spokesman Paul Wai told Reuters.
 "It is not illegal to own or sell dinosaur eggs in Hong Kong -- you can buy
them in the shops if you want to spend your money on this -- but this shipment
was undeclared," senior customs officer Kwan Kwok-cheung said.
 Hong Kong customs units regularly seize millions of dollars worth of heroin,
pirated music, movies and software, counterfeit electrical appliances, cameras
and computers illegally labelled with leading brand names.
 But Kwan told Reuters customs found 78 dinosaur fossiles -- some were
individual eggs and others consisted of several eggs fossilised together --
along with a hoard of antiques.
 Customs officers said some were as small as lemons, and others as big as
grapefruit.
 The unmanifested cargo was concealed on a truck being driven into Hong Kong
from southern China's Shenzhen special economic zone. It was concealed among
crates of toys and games, the customs department said.
 "We believe these fossils originate in China," Kwan said.
 He said customs seized two shipments of dinosaur fossils from China last
year totalling about 50 pieces.
 The selling and export of dinosaur fossils is banned in China, which, along
with neighbouring Mongolia, is one of the world's most fertile sources of
fossilised dinosaur remains.
 Customs officers estimated the total value of their latest seizure at US$1.5
million. The reddish-coloured eggs were believed to be worth about US$230 each.
 Kwan said experts would be asked to put a more reliable value on the fossils
and antiques and then they would be shipped back to Chinese authorities.
 The contraband also included 285 pieces of bronze, 385 items of pottery,
items of calligraphy and calligraphers' seals, and a dozen pieces of chinaware
from China's last imperial dynasty, which collapsed in 1911.
 Three men were arrested in connection with the import of unmanifested cargo,
and they will appear in court next month.
 Under Hong Kong law they face a fine of up to around US$65,000 and two years
in jail, if convicted.
 For centuries, smugglers in Hong Kong and neighbouring China's Guangdong
province have been notorious for their ingenuity and ability to adapt to new
times and opportunities.
 After China opened up more than a decade ago, many Guangdong and Hong Kong
fishermen turned to smuggling cars into China by towing them underwater behind
their boats in semi-submerged sealed rubber sheaths like giant condoms.
 Others on both sides of the border smuggled people into Hong Kong as illegal
immigrants. In recent months hundreds of pregnant women have been smuggled in to
give birth in the British colony, hoping to establish residency rights.