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Report: Congo Police, Army Involved in Elephant Ivory Poaching

A new report on ivory poaching in the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo has picked out the country's fractious army and the police among those heavily involved. The study by Congo's national conservation body warns that if poaching continues at the current level, forest elephants will be threatened with extinction in the east of country.

Congo's five-year war may have officially come to an end in 2003, but for conservationists working in the lawless east of the vast African country, the fight against war-related poaching has intensified.

A new investigation by the Congolese Institute for Conservation of Nature estimates 17 tons of elephant ivory was smuggled out of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve, situated in eastern Congo's war torn Ituri district, during the last six months of 2004.

The report also says Congo's police and the fractious army units still operating independently in the region are involved in the poaching, which threatens to wipe out the forest elephants from the Okapi Reserve, a world heritage site.

Former Ugandan-backed rebels and a pro-government militia, both of whom are meant to be part of Congo's national army following the end of the war, are accused of working in cahoots with the police, village chiefs and local businessmen to kill the beasts and smuggle their tusks to Uganda.

The Army was not immediately available for comment. But the head of Congo's police has acknowledged a lack of control over some units and said he would look into the accusations.

Meanwhile, John Hart, a senior scientist for the US-based Wildlife Conservation Society, said the scale of the poaching made it the worst he had seen in 30 years working in the country.

Mr. Hart warned that the last bastion of forest elephants was facing extinction with the population in the eastern Congolese wildlife reserve plummeting from 7500 in the mid-1990s to less than 2000 today.

According to the report the elephant meat is sold in the villages, while the ivory is taken to larger towns and then moved out to neighboring Uganda, where there is an increased demand for tusks, which are carved and often sold as artwork or jewelry.