Speakers appealed for calm discussion at a major wildlife protection conference Monday as delegates from more than 100 nations prepared for battle over emotive issues dividing the rich from the poor.

Sensitive topics on the agenda for the two-week Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (Cites), which began Monday in Kyoto, include the ivory trade, fishing for the prized bluefin tuna and trapping of bears for Oriental medicines.Japan, which is working hard to clean up its environmental record, is hosting the meeting for the first time. With more than 1,300 people attending, it is the biggest-ever such conference.

"The whole issue of North-South dialogue, the issue of ownership and sharing of resources is for the first time a key point at a Cites forum," said Jorgen Thomsen, head of Traffic International, which monitors trade in flora and fauna. "There are a number of southern African countries with proposals that, if passed, could turn the conference upside-down," Mr. Thomsen added.

The herring, a humble fish loved by north Europeans, is at the center of one battle.

Zimbabwe and its neighbors have formed a united front to propose a ban on the herring, saying that it is endangered.

But Northerners deny this. Southern African nations retort that the elephant is not endangered. Northerners say the southern African herring proposal is to counter the ban on ivory trading which rich countries pushed through in 1989.

This time, five southern African countries have proposed moving the elephant from Appendix I, which prohibits all commercial trade, to Appendix II, which allows limited trade.

The five are South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi and Namibia. Zambia was originally a signatory but recently withdrew.

"If some of the African countries feel they are not getting anything

from Cites, there is a risk they could walk out of the convention," said Simon Lyster, International Treaties Officer at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) International.

The issue most closely followed in Japan is a Swedish proposal to ban trade in bluefin tuna in the west Atlantic.

Outside the conference, over 100 members of Japanese fishing cooperatives and sushi shops demonstrated against the proposed ban, with banners reading, ''We oppose Sweden's proposal!" and "No tuna on Cites listing!"

There are rumors Sweden could withdraw its proposal in the face of strong lobbying by Japan and others, but a conference spokesman said that for the time being it still stood.

Japanese Foreign Minister Michio Watanabe asked the visiting Swedish trade minister this month to withdraw the proposal.

Cites, formed in 1973, now lists 2,500 animal and 35,000 plant species on its Appendix I and II. It has 112 member countries, all expected to show up at the Kyoto meeting.

Enforcement of the treaty is left to national governments, but lack of adequate controls means new species are constantly being added to the treaty or upgraded to Appendix I.