HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Zimbabwean officials have deported one North Korean diplomat and are preparing to expel another for illegally possessing rhinoceros horn, the state-run Herald newspaper reported Wednesday.
International dealing in rhinoceros horn is banned under terms of the 1989 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, and Zimbabwe in recent years has mounted an all-out effort to protect its rare rhinoceros population from poachers.
It is also a local offense in the southern African country to sell, purchase or be in possession of rhino horn.
Government officials were incensed that the North Korean government was apparently using friendly relations to indulge in illegal trade in rhino horns as well as elephant tusks, the Herald said.
One of the North Korean diplomats named by the official newspaper Wednesday, Pak Su Yong, has already been deported once, in 1990, after he was caught in possession of rhino horn.
His government transferred him to Zambia, the trading hub for African rhino horn poachers. Pak Su Yong is understood to have continued from there to ship rhino horn back to North Korea, where the horn is highly valued in traditional medicine.
The second North Korean diplomat, Han Dae Song, was identified in November 1991 as having bought a number of rhino horns, and is believed to have smuggled them out of Zimbabwe in the North Korean diplomatic bag, protected from searches by diplomatic immunity. He was expected to be deported soon.
The North Korean Embassy admitted to the Zimbabwe government that both diplomats were dealing in rhino horns, the Herald said.
The newspaper said the government's 'only course of action is to deport Mr. Han as an undesirable character whose activities are incompatible with his status as an accredited diplomat.'
The North Korean Embassy on Wednesday would not comment on the allegations.
Officials at Zimbabwe's Ministry of Foreign Affairs would not comment either.
Zimbabwe is home to 1,500 rhinoceros, about half of Africa's remaining population of 3,000 rhinoceros. Kenya, Zambia and Tanzania used to have large rhino populations, but they were decimated by poachers in the 1970s.
Rhinoceros horn, used in the Far East to make fever-reducing medicines, is far more valuable than ivory, and can retail for up to $1, 200 a pound depending on the species from which the horn is taken.