Nepal has banned people from cutting down trees for two months after reports of massive deforestation in its lawless southern plains, a government spokesman said on Friday.
The government made the ruling after receiving reports that more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of forest had been razed in the past few months alone, he told AFP. "We have received reports of tree-felling on a massive scale and illegal trading in forest wood," Information Minister Shankar Pokharel said.
Nepal already has strict laws on the felling of trees, but enforcement is weak -- particularly in the southern belt known as the Terai, where the United Nations says security is deteriorating rapidly.
Pokharel said four officials had been suspended on suspicion of involvement with the illegal timber trade, and the government would now form a committee to investigate the problem.
Nepal relies on wood for around two-thirds of its energy needs, and in the 1970s the government launched a community forest scheme to give people more control over their local woodlands.
The scheme has been successful in preserving tree cover in the central hills, but there are reports of widespread illegal logging in the community forests of the Terai.