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France says illegal trade in ivory destabilizing force in Africa

PARIS, Dec. 6 (UPI) -- French President Francois Hollande has pledged to increase fines for trafficking in ivory in a campaign to end a trade he says is destabilizing Africa.

Speaking at a roundtable meeting ahead of an African summit in Paris, Hollande said buying ivory "must be a punishable act," Radio France Internationale reported Friday.

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The trade in ivory and rhino horn is no longer just a threat to biological diversity, he said. The illegal trade has been linked to funding for rebel groups such as the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda, while some units of the Seleka rebels in the Central African Republic are suspected of poaching 20 elephants in an animal reserve in May.

The meeting, organized by Hollande's special environmental envoy, Nicolas Hulot, brought together representatives from about 20 countries and seven heads of state.

Hollande said France would increase fines for trafficking in ivory to $1 million for organized groups.

During the meeting, France committed to give financial assistance to African countries attempting to tackle the problem. Gabon will receive a $13.7 million debt conversion over five years, while Mozambique will receive $5.5 million to develop a program to fight ivory trading.

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France said it would burn its three tons of ivory stocks.

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