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    Southeast Asian Nations Agree to Strengthen Fight Against Wildlife Smuggling

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    Southeast Asian nations have announced increased cooperation to reduce the thriving cross-border trade in smuggled animals and plants. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins reports from Jakarta.

    Officials from the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, have agreed to set up regional interagency task forces to combat the multi-million dollar trade in smuggled wildlife.

    The announcement came Thursday at the close of a four-day conference of ASEAN's Wildlife Enforcement Network, held in the Indonesian city of Bogor.

    Participants say the conference established a framework for political and operational cooperation among the ten ASEAN countries. Officials agreed to focus on training law enforcement officials and the judicial sector, and raising general awareness about wildlife trafficking.

    The meeting was also attended by officers from Interpol and officials of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

    ASEAN'S Wildlife Enforcement Network aims to protect Asia's plants and animals through exchanges of intelligence among regional police, customs, and environmental agencies. This was the second meeting of the network, which was set up in December 2005.

    James Compton is Southeast Asia regional director of Traffic, a private group that monitors the international trade in wildlife. He says the task requires closer cooperation than before, what he calls a "holistic approach" among the region's law enforcement agencies.

    "What we're looking at here is the use of accurate and timely intelligence to try to disrupt these middlemen, trades that are involved in smuggling wildlife from the forests, from the reefs, and from the various environments, to their ultimate market destination. So I think it has to be a holistic approach," said Compton. 

    Smugglers trade in a wide range of animals, from bears and snakes, to endangered species as orangutans, cockatoos, elephants and tigers. The trade is driven in large part by the demand for animal parts used in traditional medicines, especially in China.

    Conservation groups say wildlife smuggling is increasing in Southeast Asia, and urgent action is needed to stop it.

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