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25 Oct 05
ASEAN countries pave way for world's largest wildlife law enforcement network
Bangkok... In a strategic move to address the persistent criminal activity targeting South-east Asia's unique biological diversity, representatives from the 10 Member Countries of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed last week to form a regional law enforcement network to combat the illegal trade in animals and plants.
South-east Asia has long been targeted as a 'hotspot' for the global trade in wildlife, including a variety of animals and plants ranging from tigers and elephants, to rare orchids, endemic reptiles and songbirds.
Recognizing that the problem is beyond national boundaries, the 10 countries have detailed their response in a five-year commitment, the ASEAN Regional Action Plan on Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora 2005-2010, which was endorsed by the ASEAN Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry last month.
A key component under that Regional Action Plan is the need to mobilize a network focused on co-ordinated law enforcement response against illegal wildlife trade.
Thailand has been nominated as the lead country for catalyzing several activities on this issue, initiated last week by the inaugural ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network Workshop, held at Khao Yai National Park.
"Following the suggestions to form a regional wildlife law enforcement network by the Prime Minister of Thailand, His Excellency Thaksin Shinawatra, we are extremely pleased to have confirmed the commitment of all countries in the region," said Dr Schwann Tunhikorn, Deputy Director-General of Thailand's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, the host of the workshop.
After three days of thorough discussion at Khao Yai, ASEAN Member Country delegates, along with representatives from the Secretariats of ASEAN and CITES, expressed their full support towards formalizing what will be the world's largest wildlife law enforcement network.
A draft Memorandum of Understanding on the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEANWEN) will now be presented to relevant Ministers for their further endorsement in November 2005.
"The criminal elements that control illegal wildlife trade have held the upper hand for too long," said John Sellar, in charge of Anti-Smuggling, Fraud and Organized Crime at the CITES Secretariat.
"By focusing on wildlife crime, the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network has the potential to lead a co-ordinated response that may indeed dismantle these illegal trade syndicates."
Next steps will involve senior CITES, Police and Customs officers from member countries of ASEANWEN to set priorities relating to national and trans-national networking, as identified by delegates to the Khao Yai workshop.
A representative of the People's Republic of China, which is already part of the existing ASEAN+3* co-operation mechanism and a major destination for Southeast Asia's wildlife trade, also attended the workshop and indicated interest in linking up with the network's efforts.
Furthermore, officials from the United States, another major consumer country, expressed their interest in working with the new network to help reduce the global illegal trade in wildlife.
The participants of the workshop also recognized that the problem of wildlife crime can be tackled more effectively through collaboration with other existing ASEAN bodies, including those that deal with co-operation on Customs, police, transport and trans-national crime.
In support of this commitment by ASEAN Countries, the United States Government, the Secretariats of ASEAN and CITES, as well as two non-government organizations WildAid and TRAFFIC, have offered their assistance to the network.
Related articles on Singapore: wildlife trade
ASEAN Wildlife Trade Initiative on the TRAFFIC website
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