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  Reuters 10 Nov 06
Manila wants tougher enforcement of environmental laws
By Manny Mogato

MACTAN ISLAND, Philippines, Nov 10 (Reuters) - The Philippines has proposed a regional law enforcement network aimed at tackling issues from wildlife trafficking to haze-causing land and forest fires, environment officials said on Friday.

Environment ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) began two days of talks focusing on ways to fight forest fires in Indonesia that have spread smoke across the region.

Until rains a few weeks ago, the haze from the fires had affected much of Southeast Asia for months, triggering fears of a repeat of the choking smog that hit the region in 1997-98.

"Environmental problems in one country can only be solved by addressing the same problems in other countries," said Angelo Reyes, the Philippine environment secretary.

A Philippine official said Manila's proposal would complement an agreement by Southeast Asian environment ministers to work together to prevent haze-causing fires.

"Our proposal was to help strengthen the enforcement of environmental laws, including those that would ban burning of forests," said the official from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

He said Manila wanted a regional mechanism to exchange intelligence and closer cooperation to stop the illegal trade of wild species of plants and animals, as well as enforcement of environmental laws.

"Within ASEAN, there have been existing mechanisms to prevent crimes, such as smuggling of drugs, small weapons and consumer goods," said the official. "We want to focus more on the enforcement of environmental laws."

He said trafficking of wild animals and their parts, such as elephant tusks, ran into billions of dollars and could be compared with the illicit trade in arms and narcotics.

"We don't expect the ministers to agree during this meeting on the creation of a regional environmental law network," the official said. "It's enough for Manila to initiate efforts to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss in the region."

On Thursday, ministers from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei and Thailand agreed to establish an early warning system, build dams to divert water to underground peatlands and set up community- based firefighting brigades on Indonesia's Sumatra and Borneo islands, where most of the forest fires have raged.

Jakarta was allowing its neighbours to help deal with the haze problem by sending equipment and experts, said Rachmat Witoelar, Indonesia's environment minister.

"That was a major breakthrough," said a Philippine diplomat after ministers belonging to a sub- regional haze panel agreed to adopt Indonesia's plan of action.

"That means the countries always affected by the haze would no longer wait for a consensus during ASEAN meetings."

Indonesia's neighbours have grown increasingly frustrated by the fires, most of which are deliberately set by farmers and by timber and palm oil plantation companies -- some owned by Singaporeans and Malaysians -- to clear land for cultivation.

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