Army ‘aiding’ illegal Burma timber trade

Up to 15 trucks laden with illegally logged timber are being smuggled from northern Burma through army checkpoints into China every day, locals in Kachin state have said.

A resident of Bhamo, close to the Chinese border, told DVB that army units along the trade route have been “collecting a toll” from the 10 to 15 military trucks that daily carry the timber, often from Ruili in Shan state.

He added that the Chinese were paying money and forcing local army, police, and forestry officials units to Burma to work for them. Officials on the Burmese side acquiesced, he said, because of looming financial uncertainties.

“Since civil service personnel do not know what is going to happen to them after the 2010 elections, they have no qualms about doing anything for money,” he said, adding that army majors and commanders were involved in the illegal activities.

A Global Witness report in October last year said that the trade had “dramatically slowed” as China tightened border controls. Between 2005 and 2008, the border area had seen a 70 percent drop in illegal timber smuggling.

Despite this, the advocacy group said that of the 270,000 m3 of logs imported into China in 2008, 90 percent were illegally felled.

Burma has one of the world’s last virgin forests, and 60 percent of the globe’s teak trees. But economic ruin brought about by decades of economic mismanagement and international sanctions have pushed both the ruling junta and local ethnic armies to aggressively fell the trees to sell to China. As a result, Burma has over the past decade seen one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world.

Corruption in the army is rife, and is a key facilitator of the illegal trade. Army privates can receive as little as $US10 per month in salary, forcing them to rely on bribe-taking from such activities.

But a vast amount of illegal Burmese timber ends up in the UK, which is one of the largest markets for wood-products produced in China.

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