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FLORA AND FAUNA
Protected pangolins seized from Philippine boat: official
by Staff Writers
Manila (AFP) April 23, 2013


Taiwan, Philippines sign crime-fighting pact
Taipei (AFP) April 23, 2013 - Taiwan announced Tuesday it has signed a crime-fighting pact with the Philippines following a spate of Internet scams that ruffled ties between the two governments.

The agreement is aimed at cracking down on criminals who exploit the lack of official diplomatic relations between the two sides, and could pave the way for similar accords with other Southeast Asian countries.

Raymond Wang, of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Manila, and his Philippine counterpart Antonio Basilio, inked the mutual legal assistance agreement in Taipei on Friday, the foreign ministry said in a statement.

"The pact has set a precedent for more of such agreements the country is seeking in the Southeast Asia," it said.

Under the deal, the two sides agree to assist each other in gathering evidence, freezing property owned by suspects, and deportations.

Negotiations came about following a diplomatic row in February 2011 when the Philippine government deported to the mainland 14 Taiwanese and 10 other Chinese suspects, who were arrested on allegations of swindling $20 million in an international scam targeting mainland China.

Taipei insisted that the Taiwanese suspects should have been sent back to the island to face justice and threatened to freeze the hiring of Filipino workers.

The dispute ended only after Manila sacked officials involved in the deportation of the Taiwanese nationals to China.

Since that time, there have been several similar scams involving Taiwanese based in the Philippines.

There are more than 80,000 Philippine workers in Taiwan, sending home hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

China and Taiwan have been ruled separately since the end of a civil war in 1949, although Beijing claims the island. The Philippines has formal ties with China only but maintains economic and cultural links with Taiwan.

Philippine authorities have seized 23 protected scaly anteaters found hidden in a cargo boat, in the second case of suspected trafficking of the species in a month, officials said.

The coast guard, acting on a tip, found 22 of the animals -- also known as pangolins -- alive and one dead, on a boat set to leave a port on the western island of Palawan on Saturday, a coast guard statement said.

The wild animals, believed to have been snatched from the island, were destined for Manila, said Palawan environment official Alex Marciada.

"At least we got them (the 22 live pangolins) back and we are now trying to rehabilitate them at the rescue centre," he told AFP.

Earlier this month, a Chinese fishing vessel that ran aground in a Philippine marine park near Palawan was found to be carrying hundreds of frozen pangolins in violation of international conservation rules.

The crew were detained and charged with poaching and illegal entry, while they face further charges of trafficking in protected species, said Marciada, spokesman for the Palawan Council for Sustainable Development.

The crime is punishable by up to 20 years in prison, he said.

No arrests have been made for the latest seizure of live pangolins.

The owner of the cargo could not be traced, Marciada said, adding that the government is considering charges against the boat owner instead.

Pangolins are widely hunted in parts of Asia for their meat, skin and scales -- in China they are considered a delicacy and are believed to have medicinal qualities.

In the Philippines they are found only on Palawan and officials have expressed concerns that trafficking could lead to their extinction.

The Swiss-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature lists the Philippine pangolin as "near-threatened".

The Philippines prohibits their capture and transportation.

Marciada said tests conducted by government scientists showed that some of the frozen pangolins found in the Chinese fishermen's boat had come from Palawan, but others came from Malaysia or Indonesia.

All eight species of the insect-eating mammals are protected by international law.

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