Kachin state authorities continue illegal timber seizures, Myanmar official says

Kachin state government authorities in northern Myanmar seized more than 20,000 metric tons (22,046 U.S. tons) of illegal timber near the country’s border with China over the last five years, a high-ranking forestry official said Thursday.

Aung Naing, Kachin state minister of forestry and mines, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that authorities confiscated nearly 10,600 metric tons (11,685 U.S. tons) of teak and other illegally harvested wood in 2014-2015 alone, the greatest amount seized during the five-year period.

Authorities confiscated most of the timber in Mansi township near Bhamo district, an area rife with illegal logging activities, although last year’s major seizure occurred in the Mawein and Lawsar areas near Chibwe township in Myitkyina district, where authorities arrested illegal Chinese workers and seized heavy machinery, he said. Other arrests were made in the Kha-yar, Weigyi and Sinbo areas.

“In some cases, the timber had been transported from Sagaing region and Shan state and was on its way to China from the Mansi area where the government has no control,” Aung Naing said.

Besides illegal logs, authorities also confiscated illegal narcotics and vehicles and detained 150 illegal Chinese nationals last year in Waingmaw township of Myitkyina district, he said.

“Smugglers took advantage of the instability in the region,” he said. “But whenever there is stability, our departmental officials and the police are able to patrol the area and stop their operations.”

Clashes between government troops and Kachin rebels during the past few years have brought instability to the area, and displaced thousands of civilians, forcing some across the border into China.

Aung Naing said he had issued instructions for government employees not to get involved in any illegal operations with huge trucks transporting contraband items, including logs and other forest products, from Kachin state to China.

Timber exports banned

Myanmar banned timber exports in 2014, but observers contend that Chinese loggers often make deals with local warlords, and in some cases local Myanmar army officers, to ship logs across the border into southern China’s Yunnan province. By law, all timber from Myanmar must be transported to the port in the commercial capital Yangon and exported from there.

In January 2015, Myanmar army officers raided an illegal logging operation in a remote region of Kachin state, arresting 155 Chinese nationals. Six months later, the Myitkyina district court sentenced 153 of them to life in prison for illegal logging and handed down 10-year sentences to two Chinese minors for the same offense. But in the end, Myanmar officials pardoned and deported them.

A Sept. 2015 report by the London-based group Environmental Investigation Agency said traders and officials from both countries work together to illegally transport teak and rosewood to feed China’s huge demand for luxury wood, which is used for furniture and flooring.

The report noted the lack of enforcement by the Myanmar government while China failed to respect the sovereignty law of its neighbor.

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