Sat, 29 Mar 2003

Police, military told to curb animal smuggling

Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Ministry of Forestry is calling on the police and military to take firm action against their officers involved in the illegal trade of protected animals.

"So far, our efforts to stop the smuggling of protected species have come up against a brick wall, as we have found out that police and military personnel are behind the rampant smuggling of protected animals," the director for biodiversity, Adi Susmianto, told the Jakarta Post on Friday.

"I think the commanders of the National Police and Indonesian Military need to publicly declare that their institutions are fighting against the illegal trade of protected animals."

He said he hoped that the fight against the trade of protected species would find its way onto the national agenda, such as the campaign against illegal logging.

The animal trade has reached a whopping US$1.5 billion a year, or half of the state's annual losses due to illegal logging, with Jakarta topping the list at $547 million per year, according to a survey by the Gibbons Foundation.

The foundation said smuggling was rampant as the practice was backed by government officials, police and military officers, and law enforcement was poor.

Under Law No. 5/1990 on conserving biological diversity and its ecosystem, the trade of protected animals is illegal.

Adi said that the ministry would also plan to brief law enforcers and military personnel about laws related to the environment and protected animals to make them realize that these species were prohibited from being traded.

"For prosecutors, the briefing will show them the right articles for charging the perpetrators, and for judges, it will help them understand why criminals have to be severely punished," he said.

The ministry will also ask the Jakarta Police, the Jakarta Prosecutor's Office and other provincial institutions to hold joint operations to crack down on animal smuggling this year, he said.

"I am hoping that if joint operations were realized, they could drastically reduce the involvement of at least police officers in the illicit practice, particularly in Jakarta," he said.

Adi said that if the operations were only carried out by the ministry, police investigators and prosecutors might stop the campaign just to save their own people.

Two non-governmental organizations, ProFauna Indonesia and the Gibbons Foundation, agreed that law enforcement had to be the top priority in combating the illegal trade of protected animals.

As an example, ProFauna director Rosek Nursahid said that after an operation to stop the smuggling of protected turtles was launched in Bali and several perpetrators were punished in 2001, the number of smuggled turtles dropped from 27,000 to 2,000.

"There is no other way to combat smuggling but to strictly enforce the law. It has been proven effective in reducing smuggling," he said during a three-day seminar on wildlife that started on Thursday.

ProFauna said it would continue to assist the government to investigate and monitor the trade of any protected animals, he said.