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    Thailand Backs New Campaign to Halt Illegal Trade in Wildlife

    Thailand is backing new efforts to stem illegal trade in wildlife in Southeast Asia.  The campaign was given the go-ahead by Thai Prime Minister at a ceremony in Bangkok close to markets where trade in exotic wildlife has flourished.  Ron Corben in Bangkok reports.

    Regional animal conservation group, the WildAid Foundation, launched the "Sold Out" campaign against wildlife trafficking near Chatuchak weekend market, long a popular location for the illegal trade.

    Thai government support was shown by the attendance of Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont.  Thai police and the Department of National Parks and Wildlife are pledged to contribute more to the fight against wildlife trafficking.

    Kraisak Choonhavan, chairman of the Thai office of the WildAid Foundation and a former senator, said Thai support has come despite fears of budget cuts.

    "General Surayud as the prime minister opening our event here to fight against the wildlife trafficking is definitely an extremely encouraging sign that the government will now be more supportive and proactive," Kraisak says    

    The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Wildlife Enforcement Network was established in 2005, and Thai commitment to that has already produced results, says Steve Galster of the WildAid Foundation.

    "We have seen an increase in confiscations of illegal wildlife through Thailand - as a result of Thailand taking the lead in this new ASEAN wildlife enforcement network," Galster says. "They have doubled their amount of confiscations over the past couple of years."

    Galster says the next step is for law enforcement officials across the region to move against the people behind animal trafficking rackets.

    China is a key destination for illegal animal life from Southeast Asia with huge demand for exotic animals driven by the country's growing prosperity.  Vietnam is also a destination for wildlife sourced from Cambodia and Laos.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development supports the campaign and Southeast Asian nations now work more closely with Interpol, the U.S. Justice Department and the United Nation's endangered species agency.

    The U.S. government estimates the illegal trade is worth more than $10 billion a year, and constitutes the third-largest global black market after drugs and weapons. 

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