FRIGATE BAY, St Kitts and Nevis, June 18 (Reuters) - Mali's natural resources do not include whales, yet the dusty, landlocked, sub-Saharan country has a vote in the International Whaling Commission, which is fighting this week over whether the giant mammals may be hunted.
The inclusion of landlocked nations like Mali and Mongolia in the IWC has fueled accusations that pro-whaling Japan has been using foreign aid to persuade friendly countries to join and help it try to overturn a 1986 ban on commercial whaling.
But the growing ranks of the world whaling body, which started in 1946 with 15 members and now has 70, is not due to pro-whaling nations alone.
"There are more landlocked countries against whaling than in favor of whaling," said Rune Frovik, secretary of the High North Alliance, a Norwegian pro-whaling lobby group.
"By our count, there are six of theirs, two of ours," Frovik said at the commission's annual meeting in the Caribbean island state of St Kitts and Nevis, which ends on Tuesday.
Pro-whaling Mali and Mongolia have consistently voted with Japan in the IWC in its campaign to resume whale hunting.
On the other side, Austria, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Switzerland and tiny San Marino oppose Japan and its allies at every turn.
"Whales aren't the property of coastal states," said Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, defending the role of anti-whaling nations. "They're a global resource that have special status under international law."
There is little common ground between conservation groups, which want all whales protected, and pro-whaling nations which believe that some whale species are no longer endangered and can be hunted in a sustainable way.
Heri Coulibaly, Mali's representative at the IWC, said his country was a signatory to many international conventions and had a right and a duty to play a part in global affairs.
Pavla Hycova, the Czech Republic's representative at the IWC, said her country was invited to join by anti-whaling nations, including the United States and Germany.
The invitation coincided with increasing public pressure on her government to help protect the Earth's largest creatures. As debate becomes more heated, the Czech vote and voice had become more important, she said.
Caribbean island states, which have become a powerful block of support for Japan, angrily reject claims that their votes had been bought in eschange for Japanese funding for fish processing plants and other infrastructure.
Such accusations sprung out of colonial and racist attitudes, said Edwin Snagg, the IWC commissioner for St Vincent and the Grenadines.
"It's a question of respect," Snagg said. "Because you are small and because you are undeveloped there is this view and there is this feeling that you can easily be bought and you can easily be sold. We in the Caribbean feel highly offended."
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