New Zealand seeks assurance dolphins won't be exported from Solomons

New Zealand's prime minister has written to the Solomon Islands' government seeking an assurance that it won't resume dolphin exports amid reports that up to 40 of the mammals held in captivity in the Pacific island nation are to be traded soon.

A senior New Zealand diplomat in the Solomon Islands' capital, Honiara, said Monday his country has been given "several high-level assurances" that the Cabinet's ban on dolphin exports remains in force.

The high-level contacts, including a letter from Prime Minister Helen Clark to her Solomons' counterpart, Sir Allan Kemakeza, follow reports in recent weeks that up to 40 dolphins held in captivity in the islands are to be exported shortly.

An international uproar erupted in 2003 over a shipment of 28 dolphins transported by airplane from the Solomon Islands to Mexico.

Environmentalists argued the sale was illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, and should have been stopped by authorities in Mexico.

People involved in the shipment said exports were not illegal under Solomon Islands law. Animal campaigners maintain the practice is illegal under international law.

"There does seem to be strong indications that there are people in the Solomon Islands, in spite of all the promises made by their government, who are prepared to export two lots of 20 dolphins each to the Bahamas," New Zealand Conservation Minister Chris Carter said Sunday.

"Helen Clark has written to the prime minister of the Solomons pointing that the Solomon Islands' government has said they won't export dolphins," he told TV3 News.

He said New Zealand is not confident that the exports can be prevented under current international law controlling trade in protected species, but any export would be a big step backward for the island state.

If the exports occur, "the European Union will ban tuna exports from Solomon to Europe. It will really hurt the Solomons if this takes place," Carter said.

The World Society for Protection of Animals' regional manager in New Zealand, Kimberly Muncaster, said Monday the group had been told by reliable sources who had alerted them to the 2003 shipment plans that the dolphins could be taken out of the country on two separate chartered flights passing through Fiji, Tahiti and Mexico en route to the Bahamas.

She said with the Solomons' Cabinet ban in place, any dolphin export "will contravene local law and therefore be illegal under CITES."

A New Zealand diplomat in Honiara, speaking on condition of anonymity in accordance with official practice, told The Associated Press that New Zealand "has had several high-level assurances that the export ban is in place."

Kemakeza also assured the Solomons' Parliament last week that the Cabinet ban on live dolphin exports remains in force.

The Solomons, a nation of 480,000 mostly Melanesian people, is 3,841 kilometers (2,386 miles) northeast of Wellington in the Pacific Ocean, AP reported. V.A.

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