Illegal logging fuelling crime gangs in Southeast Asia | Connect Asia

Illegal logging fuelling crime gangs in Southeast Asia

Illegal logging fuelling crime gangs in Southeast Asia

Updated 2 October 2012, 15:11 AEST

A new report by INTERPOL and the United Nations' Environment Program has delved into the link between illegal logging and organised crime.

The study is titled "Green Carbon: Black Trade" and it says the illegal timber trade generates between $US30 to $US100 billion a year for crime groups - many of which operate in Southeast Asia.

Presenter: Helene Hofman

Speakers: Davyth Stewart, Criminal Intelligence Officer, Environmental Crime Program, INTERPOL; Megan McInnes, Team Leader, Global Witness

HOFMAN: The list of crimes perpetrated by gangs involved in the trade of illegal timber is extensive. According to the "Green Carbon: Black Trade" report by INTERPOL and the United Nations' Environment Program, illegal logging has been linked to a rise in cases of murder, corruption, fraud and theft. The document outlines how gangs across the world forge documents, pay bribes and intimidate villagers . Davyth Stewart, Criminal Intelligence Officer for Interpol's Environmental Crime Program, says this is particularly concerning considering how widespread the practice of illegal logging has become.

STEWART: There are some countries where 50 to 70 per cent of the timber coming out of those countries is illegal. The areas that are most concerning to us in south east Asia are Myanmar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea. I'm also particularly concerned about what I'm seeing in Cambodia and Laos. There has been a lot of investment in Vietnam around tackling illegal logging and improving their logging practices, but unfortunately what we've seen is a shift of pressure onto Cambodia and Laos and now there seems to be a lot of illegal logging going on in Cambodia and Laos and supplying the market to Vietnam.

HOFMAN: The situation in Cambodia was thrown into the international spotlight earlier this year, with the death of the prominent anti-logging activist Chut Wutty. He was shot dead by police in a remote south-western province while taking journalists to the site of illegal logging. Police insist he was armed. Last month, the body of Hang Serei Oudom, a reporter known for his stories on forest crimes -- was found in the boot of his car. There have also been complaints of several other activists and journalists being threatened and even detained by authorities. The UK-based watchdog Global Witness has been monitoring illegal logging in Cambodia's for over 18 years. Megan McInnes (Mac In'iss), leads the group's land campaign, and she says they are concerned by the recent developments.

MCINNES: We see Cambodia as being in one of the higher risk country categories in relation to forest governance. There has been this high level collusion between senior business and political figures to capture control over Cambodia's forests and natural resources and make sure the revenues from them are going into their own personal pockets. There are significant concerns around the way in which the government is allocating large tracts of land and forests to companies for extractive purposes and this has a major impact at the broader level in terms of access to water and access to land and the food security for communities. An even more concerning recent trends we've seen in Cambodia is the fact that government and the companies and the armed forces are increasingly cracking down on community activists, on civil society groups, on NGOs and also on journalists who are trying to protect Cambodia's forest and who are trying the forest rights of these communities.

HOFMAN: "Green Carbon: Black Trade" warns that illegal logging is threatening the destabilise the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation initiative, better known as REDD. As Davyth Stewart explained, when Vietnam cracked down on the sector within its borders the problem shifted across the border to Cambodia and Laos. He says only a global response can effectively tackle the problem.

STEWART: The illegal logging operations are very mobile. They can move quickly. They're large, very organised criminal networks with a lot of resources. There is a lot of money in this. So, really what that means is it's never enough for one country alone to tackle illegal logging. The thing we need to remember too is that this timber is supplying other markets and more needs to be done by those importing the illegal timber. Eighty pre cent of the illegal timber is currently travelling to the US, the European Union, Japan and China and so each of those countries really has a responsibility to deal with the timber imports and to reduce their demand of illegal timber.

HOFMAN: The "Green Carbon: Black Trade" report is available online through both the INTERPOL and U-N-E-P websites.

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