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Security forces accused of poaching elephants, rhinos in Zimbabwe

Elephants

HARARE, Zimbabwe — The leader of a U.N. program to protect endangered species on Thursday charged that Zimbabwean security forces are spearheading poaching of elephants and rhinos in the troubled country.

At a news conference Thursday in Harare, Willem Wijnstekers, secretary-general of the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, said security forces had killed about 200 rhinos over the past two years, putting that population on the verge of extinction in Zimbabwe. He did not give a figure on elephants.

Wijnstekers did not give details on the allegations against security forces.

"Questions are now being asked on whether the Zimbabwe government is doing enough to protect its wildlife," Wijnstekers said. "This leaves us with no option but to recommend that the country be brought before the CITES board to explain the poaching. If they fail to do that they risk being banned to trade in ivory."

Wijnstekers, who is on fact-finding mission in Zimbabwe, said he had briefed Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

"He expressed his concern and has said that those security agents must face the law and be arrested as he does acknowledge the problem that is happening in the wildlife sector," he said.

Zimbabwe's minister of Environment and Natural Resources Management, Francis Nhema, said he has been briefed by police about security forces being involved in poaching. Nhema says Zimbabwe is asking Wijnstekers's organization, known as CITES, for help.

"There is a perception worldwide about breakdown of law and order in the country," Nhema said, saying Zimbabwe needed vehicles and helicopters to track down poachers.

Restoring the rule of law was one of the goals of a coalition government formed last year between longtime opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe. Tsvangirai has made little headway in changing the character of the government.

Mugabe, who has led the country since 1980, is accused of buying the loyalty of his security forces by allowing them to engage in criminal activities, then using them to trample dissent.

-- Associated Press

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Photo: Elephants in southern Africa. Credit: Robyn Dixon / Los Angeles Times

 
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