Convoy of Lao trucks transports logs to Vietnam, despite ban on timber exports

Laos has continued to transport logs from its forests to Vietnam, despite a government ban on timber exports that took effect in August and a leaked report by an international environmental group two months ago, revealing huge increases in illegal logging with the implication of government collusion.

The Lao government issued a decree on Aug. 8 prohibiting the export of logs and mandating that timber must be processed in Laos before it is exported to foreign countries. Previously, the government had banned the export of logs but exceptions were allowed only when it approved them.

But an official from the Lao Government Office who now works in Savannakhet city told RFA’s Lao Service that he saw dozens of trucks in the province transporting timber to Vietnam on Dec. 15.

“On that day, I saw around hundred large trucks loading logs that were covered by canvas sheets at the Lao Bao-Dansavanh international border checkpoint in Sepon district of Savannakhet, and of course, those logs were exported to Vietnam,” said the official who declined to be named.

Traffic policemen on motorcycles directed the movement of the convoy of trucks, he said.

Later that evening, a party was held at a hotel with a heavy security detail in Savannakhet’s Kaysone Phomvihane district for a Lao national leader who permitted the logs to be exported to Vietnam, the official said, citing a friend who lives in Savannakhet province as the source of the information. 

RFA contacted Khamphout Phandanouvong, director general of the Forestry Inspection Department under the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, but he was not available for comment.

News of the activities in Savannakhet comes just two months after a report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) cited massive and systematic corruption and poor governance of logging activities in the country’s four southernmost provinces from November 2012 to May 2015. 

The report, marked as a “final draft for internal use only,” came about from a project agreement with the Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. 

It found that the value of Lao wood product imports reported by China and Vietnam exceeded that of officially recorded Lao exports more than 10-fold, based on an analysis of Lao customs data.

Measures banning the export of logs can work in some cases, but cannot be implemented everywhere, said a source who works in a furniture production plant in Khammuane province to the north of Savannakhet.

“Some sawmills have been closed because they have no raw wood to support their production, while others backed by big politicians can survive,” he said.

The source also noted that valuable and highly sought-after rosewood is not available in Laos because the supply is purchased by Vietnamese and Chinese vendors.

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