Phnom Penh, August 13, 2010 – Today an inter-agency workshop brought together key officials to reinforce the Cambodian Government’s commitment to combating wildlife crime in cooperation with neighboring countries under the ASEAN Wildlife Enforcement Network (ASEAN-WEN). A new Cambodian Wildlife Enforcement Network Coordination Unit (CWCU) will strengthen the existing operational task force to combat the illegal trade of protected species.
Accompanied by ASEAN–WEN representatives and delegates from the United States and neighboring countries, His Excellency Uk Sokhonn, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Cambodia, inaugurated this new national initiative linking Cambodia‘s wildlife law enforcement efforts with neighboring countries for a more coordinated response to cross-border wildlife trafficking.
Since 2001, the Cambodian government has cracked down on the illegal wildlife trade with the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT), an inter-agency wildlife crime investigation and counter-trafficking unit of the Forestry Administration and Royal Gendarmerie of Cambodia operating with technical and financial support from Wildlife Alliance. The WRRT has rescued more than 40,000 live wild animals, raided hundreds of restaurants, markets and shops illegally selling wildlife, set up check points on roads and dramatically reduced wildlife crime in Cambodia.
But despite these efforts, many of the country’s most iconic wildlife species, including Tigers, Asian Elephants and Sunda Pangolins now face the threat of extinction in the wild due to poaching and transnational wildlife trafficking. The establishment of the CWCU strengthens the capacity of the Cambodian government to combat crimes against wildlife and promises to improve coordination between the Police, Customs, Military and Judicial Departments in Cambodia, the ASEAN-WEN Program Coordination Unit, and neighboring country task forces.
The WRRT will continue to actively suppress illegal wildlife trade throughout the country and function as the enforcement arm of the CWCU. Through ASEAN-WEN, Cambodian law enforcement officers will have greater authority to conduct transboundary investigations and target wildlife traffickers across international boundaries. Cambodia will also gain greater access to ASEAN-WEN training activities and investigations through the ASEAN-WEN Support Program.
Today’s workshop was hosted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries of Cambodia, and organized with support from non-governmental conservation groups Wildlife Alliance and FREELAND Foundation with funding from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF). USAID is supporting the development of ASEAN-WEN regionally. CEPF is providing further support to the CWCU.
H.E. Uk Sokhonn, Secretary of State of Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said “This is an important workshop allowing pertinent agencies to share information, knowledge and experience. It will find solutions to avoid threats to bio-diversity, public health and socio-economic wellbeing. I believe law enforcement efforts will not only protect the wildlife and eco-systems of Cambodia, but also combat trans-boundary illegal wildlife trafficking.”
Manop Lauprasert, Senior Officer of ASEAN-WEN Program Coordination Unit, said, “The establishment of the Cambodian Wildlife Enforcement Network demonstrates Cambodia’s enthusiasm for cooperation within ASEAN and the unbelievably great work Cambodian wildlife authorities have accomplished up to today. ASEAN-WEN hopes this will serve as an example for the entire region to counter wildlife crime.” Participants agreed that governments and civil society must continue to work together to advance coordinated national and international action to stop wildlife crime.