GENEVA, Mar 18 - Governments on Thursday considered ways to get tough with African countries that breach a global ban on ivory trading, the United Nations said.
A session of the executive of the 165-nation U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, discussed possible measures against countries that fail by Dec. 31 to enact legislation banning domestic ivory sales, that do not apply existing laws properly or whose customs agencies turn a blind eye to cross-border dealing. Countries would be required to submit to CITES inspections in 2005.
But any decision on how to impose an embargo on those who do not clamp down on ivory trading is unlikely until later this year, said Michael Williams, spokesman for the U.N. Environmental Program, which administers CITES. The convention's member states are set to hold a decision-making congress in Bangkok, Thailand, in October.
Cameroon, Congo, Djibouti and Nigeria are most in the spotlight, according to CITES documents.
Campaigners said African governments need to get tough.
"African countries must crack down on ivory traders and begin to tackle the corruption which prevents effective trade controls," said Susan Lieberman, director of the species program at the World Wide Fund for Nature.
African governments are deeply split over the ivory trade, which has been banned since 1989.
Five southern African countries - South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Namibia - all have huge elephant herds that are in some cases destroying the environment. The countries have argued that each year they should be allowed to sell a set amount of ivory from elephants that have died naturally or were culled under government-supervised programs.
In 2002, CITES voted to allow Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe to collectively sell 60 metric tons (66 US tons) in a one-time sale.
But countries such as Kenya, where the elephant population is still recovering from rampant poaching in the 1980s, are worried that such sales give cover to poachers who want to sell illegally obtained ivory.
The illegal ivory trade is fueled largely by the legal domestic ivory-working industry in Asian countries including China, CITES has said. Many Chinese traders duck controls by faking ivory carvings to look like antiques or claiming they use tusks stockpiled before 1989.