More than 100 foreigners, most of them Chinese, were arrested in northern Myanmar in a crackdown on illegal logging.
The wire news agency quoted the army-run Myawaddy newspaper as reporting that a total of 142 people, including 102 foreigners, were arrested during a military operation against logging in restive Kachin state between January 2-4.
Documents appearing to allow the logging signed by a Kachin Independence Army (KIA) officer were found on the suspects, the army said.
Some 464 vehicles and drugs were also seized, said the report. Myanmar banned the export of teak logs for the first time in April toreduce deforestation, but illegal logging is still rife in remote border areas, especially in northern parts of the country.
“The fighting in northern parts of the country was the main driver of the illegal timber trade,” said Nyi Nyi Kyaw, deputy director generalof Forest Department.
“Only the army can crack down on illegal logging in these areas as it’s very hard for us to go there,” he said.
Myanmar’s forest cover fell by around a fifth between 1990 and 2010,from 58 per cent of the country to 47 per cent, according to government figures.
In October, state media the New Light of Myanmar reported that the Forestry and Conservation Ministry is planning to privatise state-run forest estates throughout the country. Foreign and domestic companies will be invited to invest in forest plantations on more than 100,000 hectares of government land.
Timber from Myanmar is being illegally traded to other neighbouring countries but illicit exports to Thailand are much lower than those to China.
Union Minister of Environmental Conservation and Forestry Win Tun said earlier that it was difficult to control illegal timber trade partly because of poor control from China’s side.
Fear of Chinese unemployment and the demand for raw materials are preventing action, he added.
“I have requested that the minister of State Forestry Administration of China and the regional government of Yunnan Province ban the illegal import of Myanmar’s timber. Also, I have asked the Chinese Ambassador to Myanmar to end the illicit timber trade using maps and photos as evidence,” he said.
“Although the Central Government of China does not seem to support the illicit trade, the Yunnan administration prioritises its people’s employment and the supply of raw materials,” he said.
There is a furniture trade in Ruili, the Myanmar-China border city, valued at millions of yuan. Logs from Myanmar are vital to China where logging is banned, according to Ruili residents.
A lot of illegal traders from China came to Myanmar from June 2011 when conflict between the Myanmar military and KIA started. However, after three years of deforestation in Myanmar, fewer Chinese vehicles are coming to Myanmar to carry logs back to China.
Source: The Nation