By Michelle Nichols
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Armed groups in central Africa are using powerful weapons, some of which may be left over from the civil war in Libya, to kill elephants for their ivory, the United Nations said on Monday.
In a report to the U.N. Security Council, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said elephant poaching was a growing security concern, particularly in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad and Gabon.
Ban said the illegal trade in ivory may be an important source of funding for armed groups, including warlord fugitive Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
"Also of concern is that poachers are using more and more sophisticated and powerful weapons, some of which, it is believed, might be originating from the fallout in Libya," his report said.
Ban said that in Minkebe Park in northeastern Gabon, more than 11,000 elephants had been slaughtered between 2004 and 2013, while in Chad in March, poachers killed 86 elephants - including 33 pregnant females - within a week. In Cameroon's Bouba Ndjida National Park, more than 300 elephants were killed during the last two months of last year.
"The situation has become so serious that national authorities in some countries, such as Cameroon, have decided to use the national army, in addition to law and order enforcement agencies to hunt down poachers," Ban said.
United Nations officials say growing Asian demand for ivory is helping to drive a poaching boom.
The U.N. Security Council's Group of Experts, who monitor an arms embargo imposed on Libya at the start of an uprising in 2011 that overthrew Muammar Gaddafi, said last month that the North African state had become a key source of weapons in the region as its nascent government struggles to exert authority.
The experts said weapons were spreading from Libya at an "alarming rate," fueling conflicts in Mali, Syria and elsewhere and boosting the arsenals of extremists and criminals in the region.
Ban's report singled out the LRA and Kony, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes. He and his commanders are accused of abducting thousands of children to use as fighters in a rebel army that earned a reputation for chopping off limbs as a form of discipline.
LRA fighters fought the Ugandan government for nearly two decades before being ejected from their strongholds in the north of the country in 2005, forcing them to establish bases in the jungles of other countries in the region.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by David Brunnstrom)