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Leaders sign new treaty to protect rainforest

BRAZZAVILLE, 7 Feb 2005 (IRIN) - Leaders of the 10 countries that make up the Congo Basin on Saturday concluded a treaty aimed at protecting the world's second largest rainforest.

The treaty, signed at the end of a two-day summit in Brazzaville, capital of the Republic of Congo (ROC), provides for the creation of a new forestry commission and a subregional fund to finance the protection of the rainforest, as well as the harmonisation of national laws on logging.

Environmentalists hailed the treaty, saying the forest was being destroyed by illegal logging and poaching. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), an average of 13,700 ha of forest was lost each year from 1990 to 2000 in the Congo Basin, which has a total area of about 520 million ha. Deforestation rate has continued since then, FAO said, but at a slower rate.

The area is home to the world's gorillas and many other animals that are now at risk of extinction. As flora and fauna disappear millions of people who depend on the forest are becoming increasingly impoverished.

The new commission will be charged with tracking poachers across borders and providing funds for training and conservation.

The new plans to protect the Congo Basin's forests, excluding those of Equatorial Guinea, will cost over US $15 billion.

To fund the initiative, the heads of state agreed to create a tax on products exported from the forest. They also called on the international community to renew its support.

The countries taking part in the summit were ROC, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Sao Tome and Principe and Rwanda. French President Jacques Chirac also attended.

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