From: Michael Casey, Associated Press
Published December 2, 2005 12:00 AM

Southeast Asian Countries Launch Law Enforcement Network To Fight Wildlife Smuggling

BANGKOK, Thailand — Southeast Asian countries on Thursday launched what they said is the world's largest wildlife law enforcement network, aiming to fight cross-border trade in endangered species.


"Today is a historic occasion," said Petipong Pungbun Na Ayudhya, the permanent secretary at Thailand's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment.


"The success of this network is critical to the future of the region's biological diversity," Petipong said. "We are all giving our children and future generations the chance to inherit a Southeast Asia that is rich in biodiversity and natural beauty."


The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations approved the network, which Petipong said will be the world's largest, to be known as ASEAN-WEN, for ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network.


The network aims to bolster cross-border cooperation, information exchanges, cooperation between national environmental and law enforcement officials, and training for wildlife trafficking agencies, Petipong said.


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Conservation groups estimate that criminal gangs around the world make US$7 billion to US$10 billion (euro5.9 billion to euro8.5 billion) a year in trading anything from tiger parts to live orangutans and pythons.


Until now, governments in the region have largely operated independently in fighting the trade, playing into the hands of traffickers who can take advantage of corrupt customs agencies, weak law enforcement, porous borders and a lack of cross-national cooperation.


Last year at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Bangkok, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra proposed setting up a "wildlife Interpol" to combat wildlife trafficking in Southeast Asia.


As major markets for illicit wildlife, the participation of the United States and China is considered crucial for the network's success.


Petipong said he hoped to secure China's support at a 13-nation meeting in Malaysia next month involving the 10 ASEAN member countries and South Korea, China and Japan.


The United States, which is providing US$3 million (euro2.5 million) for the network, praised its creation.


"Southeast Asia will no longer consist of 10 different countries acting independently of each other in attempting to stop the trade in animals and animal parts," said Ralph Boyce, the U.S. ambassador to Thailand. "Instead, each of your countries will have the benefit of the knowledge, training and resources for an entire region, a region united to end this corrosive activity."


Steve Galster, regional director for WildAid -- a group that works to eliminate illegal trade in wildlife -- said at the launching Thursday that the Asian network could serve as a model for other regions.


"It could apply to South America or other parts of world," Galster said. "It's a very simple network. There have been other networks tried before which are largely meetings and there is one in Africa that is so complicated that it doesn't work operationally very well."


Source: Associated Press


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