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Dar es Salaam (AFP) – Tanzania will continue a controversial anti-poaching operation, President Jakaya Kikwete said Thursday, overturning a suspension following reports of rampant human rights abuses including torture and killing of suspects.
Police and wildlife officers have cracked down on suspected poachers amid a surge of killings of elephant and rhino in the east African nation, operating under what was reported to be a shoot-to-kill policy and making sweeping arrests.
“We are going to rectify such mistakes and take to task culprits, and later continue with the mission to fight poachers and protect elephants from imminent extinction,” Kikwete told parliament.
The campaign, launched two months ago, was dubbed “Operation Tokomeza”, or “Operation Terminate”.
Parliament suspended the operation last week after lawmakers alleged a string of abuses including killings during the campaign.
But Kikwete said abandoning the operation was tantamount to letting the poachers win, and that the efforts must continue, warning that animals were being slaughtered at alarming rates.
However, he said the government was aware of widespread complaints of human right abuses, including reports of security forces beating civilians, and that they would be investigated.
Between 2010 and September 2013, a total of 3,921 pieces of elephant tusks weighing 14 tonnes were seized by police and wildlife officials, Kikwete said.
During the same period 4,692 pieces of elephant tusks originating from Tanzania, weighing 17.7 tonnes, were intercepted by customs authorities abroad, he added.
Poaching has risen sharply in Africa in recent years. Besides targeting rhinos, whole herds of elephants have been massacred for their ivory.
Tourism is a key foreign currency earner for Tanzania, especially wildlife safaris to its world-famous parks that include the Serengeti and Ngorongoro crater.
The lucrative Asian black market for rhino horn has driven a boom in poaching across Africa.
Asian consumers falsely believe the horns, which have the same composition as fingernails, have powerful healing properties.