From: Bryan Mealer, Associated Press
Published February 7, 2005 12:00 AM

African Countries Sign Treaty to Protect Rain Forest

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo — Seven Central African countries signed a landmark treaty Saturday to establish cross-border partnerships to help save the world's second largest rain forest.


The treaty concluded a two-day summit of Central African heads of state to address threats to the great Congo Basin forests, a 500 million-acre region that makes up the very heart of Africa.


The Congo Basin forests stretch through 10 countries and are home to more than half Africa's animal species, including the world's entire population of lowland gorillas. Nearly 20 million people depend on the forests for food and shelter.


But illegal logging, poaching, ivory trafficking and a rampant bushmeat trade have decimated the forests at an alarming rate.


"We are gathered here to ensure the preservation of a priceless heritage, the greatest wealth of the Congo Basin, the forest," said Chirac, speaking to an audience in Brazzaville's parliament house, where giant colorful paintings of elephants, cheetahs and monkeys hung from the vaulted walls. "The protection of these forests cannot wait."


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Chirac was in Brazzaville as part of a brief tour of the Republic of Congo and Senegal, both former French colonies.


Sitting alongside the French president were leaders from the Republic of Congo, Gabon, Sao Tome, Equatorial Guinea, Congo, Chad and Central African Republic -- which make up the bulk of the Congo Basin.


The treaty will make it easier for countries to jointly track and combat poachers, who easily slip across Africa's remote borders. It will also help provide funds for training and conservation, and harmonize laws in different countries that regulate logging.


The treaty is the long-fought result of a 1999 meeting between Central African leaders in Yaounde, Cameroon.


Over 38,000 square miles of land have been preserved since the Yaounde agreement, but environmental groups said more action was needed. They claim over 3.7 million acres of land in the Congo Basin is still lost each year to logging, development, poaching, mining and oil exploration.


Environmental groups attending the summit hailed the treaty as a triumphant victory.


"You're finally seeing a commonality in what people are saying that was unthinkable 10 years ago," said Claude Martin, head of the World Wildlife Fund. "The leaders here are seeing how the exploitation of their forests will not contribute to their economies, poverty reduction and future prospects."


Martin added that peer pressure from other leaders may have also contributed to the treaty's success.


Source: Associated Press


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