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Uganda probes Chinese diplomats over ivory trafficking

FILE PHOTO: Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) rangers along with volunteers carry elephant tusks to a burning site on April 20, 2016, at Nairobi’s national park in preparation for a historic burning of tonnes of ivory, rhino-horn and other confiscated wildlife trophies. Kenya on April 30, 2016 burned approximately 105 tonnes of confiscated ivory, almost all of the country’s total stockpile. Several African heads of state, including Uganda’s Museveni, conservation experts, high-profile philanthropists and celebrities were present at the event which they hope will send a strong anti-poaching message.

Kampala, Uganda | AFP |  Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has ordered an investigation into possible collusion between the country’s wildlife agency and two Chinese diplomats in the trafficking of ivory.

Poaching has risen sharply in recent years across Africa, fuelled by rising demand in Asia for ivory and rhino horn, coveted as a traditional medicine and a status symbol. Uganda is a major transit country for the illegal trade.

The Chinese embassy officials are suspected of colluding in the movement of ivory from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan, using Uganda as a transit point, a government official said.

Ali Munira, spokeswoman for the Inspectorate General of Government (IGG) ombudsman, did not name the Chinese diplomats but said the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) was under suspicion.

The Chinese embassy could not be reached for comment.

FILE PHOTO AFP: Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni address delegates attending the opening session of the anti-poaching Giants Club Summit meeting in Nanyuki, Laikipia county on April 29, 2016. From anti-poaching commandos deployed by helicopter to boosting court prosecutions: Kenya hostied a summit on how to end ivory trafficking and prevent the extinction of elephants in the wild.

Museveni has also ordered a new probe into the theft of ivory worth more than $1-million in November 2014.

“The president’s directive to the IGG is to have all these accusations investigated and if there is a prima facie case, the executive director (of the UWA) should be suspended alongside other officials,” said Munira.

Five top officials were suspended from the UWA after the disappearance of the 1,335 kilogrammes (2,943 pounds) of ivory from supposedly secure stockpiles.

The outcome of the initial investigation, which involved Interpol, was never made public, although the international police network did carry out sting operations on trafficking networks throughout East Africa in 2015.

A police source involved in earlier investigations said it appeared Museveni was not pleased with the prior probe and that new intelligence showed the likely involvement of Chinese officials.

More than 35,000 elephants are killed across Africa every year for their tusks.

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