Authorities say a loosely organized network of thieves are behind two pricey jewel heists in South Florida.

In two separate heists over the past three weeks, about half a million dollars worth of gems have been stolen from jewelers traveling around South Florida.

Officials say the number of thefts could rise soon because the Jewelers International Showcase - the largest wholesale show in Florida - begins on South Beach Thursday.

Gem theft experts say that although the robberies may appear to be random holdups, most are actually part of a semi-organized crime network known as South American Theft Groups.

Law enforcement agents from around the country wull meet with jewelry heist experts in a closed-door workshop in Miami on Tuesday to discuss how to deal with the crimes.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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