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Myanmar illegal logging on upswing: Watchdog

Truck convoys of logs illegally felled in Myanmar have been seen entering China, environmental group Global Witness has said.

india Updated: Jan 24, 2006 14:39 IST

Truck convoys of logs illegally felled in Myanmar have been seen entering China, an environmental group said on Tuesday, despite signs that the military junta had recently suspended the practice.

London-based Global Witness issued a report in October accusing Myanmar's military government of standing by while vast stretches of virgin forest were destroyed.

The watchdog group estimated in 2004 that 1 million cubic meters of teak and softwood from the north of Myanmar, also known as Burma, were being illicitly trucked to China, where the wood becomes furniture and flooring for export to the United States and Europe.

About 95 per cent of Myanmar's total timber exports to China were illegal, the group said.

But after issuing its October report, Global Witness said it saw a sharp decline in illegal logging in Kachin State, with the military regime suspending tree-cutting, timber transport and log shipments to China.

However, in the past 10 days, the group said it has received witness reports that trucks full of freshly cut logs headed over the Chinese border. Dozens of trucks were seen crossing, mostly at night, it said.

"Until January, the timber traffic had almost stopped. However, in the last 10 days it has started again," said Susanne Kempel of Global Witness.

"We don't know what this means. What we do know is that timber that goes across the border now comes from areas under the control of the government regime," she said. "It does make us question what their intentions are and whether the Burmese government is serious when they say they want to stop this trade." Myanmar government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

In its earlier report, Global Witness said the illegal log trade benefits regional military commanders, politically connected logging companies and ethnic group leaders who profit from taxing the logs.

The illegal exports result in an annual loss of $250 million in revenue for Myanmar, the environmental group has alleged, adding that the activity takes place with the full knowledge of Myanmar's junta and the Chinese government.

Global Witness said most of the logging takes place in an area described as "very possibly the most bio-diverse, rich, temperate area on earth," a place that is home to red pandas, leopards and tigers.

First Published: Jan 24, 2006 14:39 IST