Monday, November 10, 2014

Government refutes allegations by UK based intelligence agency

The government yesterday refuted reports on allegations raised by the UK based Environmental Intelligence Agency (EIA) which it claimed that Chinese officials transacted an illegal ivory trade during the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping in the country in March 2013. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Benard Membe made it clear and told the National Assembly that, “the alleged report is not true and that, the perpetrators of such reports are envious to Tanzanian government which has built a firm diplomatic relations with China” Minister Membe clarified the matter when responding to a question raised by Dr. Hamisi Kingwangala (CCM) a Member of Parliament for Nzega constituency, who wanted to know the government’s stand over the allegations which has brought bad image to Tanzania. Clarifying over the matter to law makers, Minister Membe noted that the report is baseless with intent to disrupt the good image of the long standing relationship of the two countries which has been maintained over 50 years now since independence time. He said ivory trade is engaged with different businessmen from Africa continent with their counterparts in Asian and European countries, and that the recent impounded ivory tusks in containers at Dar es Salaam port has never been proved to have originated in Tanzania. Minister Member further noted that, the two countries actively participated in a recent International Wildlife Conference which among other things it had signed an accord to stop ivory trade as stipulated in United Nations conventions. However, Minister Membe noted that, Tanzania will continue its bilateral relations with Chinese government in every sphere of economic development, bearing the fact that, China has been helping Tanzania in its economy in areas of railways construction and other economic infrastructure on cheap loan basis. The latest report of EIA issued mid this week claimed that, members of Chinese government and business delegation that accompanied Chinese President in the country bought so much ivory that local prices doubled to $ 700 (Sh. 1.1 million) per kilogramme. The UK based agency firm cited in its report that ivory traders in the city of Dar es Salaam that were involved in this illegal business transaction.  

Foreign Affairs Minister Benard Membe

The EIA report cited a trader in Tanzania's main port city, Dar es Salaam, named as Suleiman Mochiwa, who met undercover investigators.  According to the report, the delegation team used the opportunity to procure such a large amount of ivory that local prices increased, a factor that, the Chinese government has denied the report dismissing it as baseless. Conservationists say demand for ivory in China is fuelling poaching in African major game reserve and in recent years, poaching has increased across sub-Saharan Africa, with criminal gangs slaughtering elephants for ivory. Tanzania is the largest source of poached ivory in the world, according to the EIA. 'Security checks averted' investigators alleged that the Chinese buyers could take advantage of a lack of security checks for those in the country on a diplomatic visit.  "The two traders claimed that a fortnight before the state visit, Chinese buyers began purchasing thousands of kilos of ivory, later sent to China in diplomatic bags on the presidential plane," the report added. The illegal ivory trade is flourishing in China, where many prize ivory carvings as valuable status symbols. The country's state media publicises the arrests of smugglers and, earlier this year, the first televised destruction of confiscated ivory. Complicating the issue is that China allows limited sales of legal ivory. Conservationists, both inside China and outside its borders, argue that the government needs to ban sales completely in order to stop the trade in its tracks. "The report is groundless, and we express our strong dissatisfaction," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei is quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency. The ivory trade was banned in 1989 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (Cites). Both China and Tanzania are signatories. Earlier this year China for the first time destroyed a large quantity of confiscated ivory, in a public event described by conservation groups as a landmark move.

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