The Miitary Is Plundering Burma’s Forests

December 8th, 2005 - by admin

Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization – 2005-12-08 08:59:06

“Leave the forests alone,” says Mr. Nai Htaw Ong, a young environmentalist from central Mon State to Kaowao recently. “Destroying our environment will destroy our home.”

The clear cutting of tropical rainforest in lower Burma has occurred for many centuries, but it is only in the past ten years that logging has increased dramatically for short-term profit to finance war and violence.

Ceasefire groups and the State Peace Development Council use money from logging to finance their military expenditures. Ripping down forests to search for rebel groups has been another reason for the destruction of the forests, but logging forms the most important direct threat to Burma’s forests.

Former SPDC forestry department workers and some local people worry that deforestation on such a scale will have negative effects on the environment, in particular, soil erosion and sedimentation that will affect living conditions and agriculture production. The activists are not able to voice their concerns to the SPDC and the companies who make a profit, says Mr. Nai RoTha, a former township agriculture worker from central Mon State to a Kaowao reporter.

There is no sustainable forest/land policy in cutting timber and no wildlife protection to enforce the rules. The forestry departments in lower Burma have no authority to protect the forest from logging, the departments cannot challenge their senior military commanders, says the former forestry department director in Pegu Division, Mr. Nai Mya Aung.

“The commanders order the departments to issue permission to their cronies to cut down the trees. The departments cannot say anything against their senior commanders,” he added.

Environmental researchers based along the border and the liberated areas are growing increasingly concerned over the situation. Even if stricter laws were enforced many wonder about the consequences of the deforestation.

In Mon State: The SPDC allows the New Mon State Party 5000 tons of timber every year as per their cease-fire agreement. The NMSP contracts out to the biggest private logging firm in Burma, the Htoo Company Ltd. Nobody knows exactly on how much timber is cut by the company and where it goes.

In the deep forest of eastern Ye Township, heavy deforestation has been considerable; the forest in Mon State has been nearly wiped out over the past decade because of the ceasefire. Many local people worry that deforestation has dried up mountain streams in which soil, no longer held in place by tree roots, are clogging up the streams beds.

For the construction of a new military offensive road from Ye township to the border crossing in 2001, the dense forest for 60 miles was ripped down by the SPDC to prevent rebels from hiding and launching a surprise attack, the same reason on why thousands of acres of forested land all over Burma have been torn down. The road was used to search for the Mon splinter group, the Hongsarwatoi Restoration Party, who split from New Mon State party in 2001.

In Karen State, the SPDC also gives free rein to its military ally or its militia force, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), the Karen splinter armed group, to log as a special gift. Much of the deep forests in two parts of Karen State in Dawna mountain and the Three Pagodas Pass have been ruthlessly ripped down over the past 15 years.

The area covers the southern mountain range of the Thai Burma border and constitutes an eco-region which contains the highest diversity of both bird and animal species in the Indo-Pacific region. There are many kinds of species of wildlife including tigers, elephants, and bears.

Mon monks in Mon and Karen States negotiate with the leader of DKBA, Abbot U Thuzana, who led the Buddhist armed group, to get permission to transport logs for temple construction. Northeastern Mon State relies on timber felled within the DKBA strong hold area, says a Mon monk from Gyine community between Mon and Karen States.

The timber is usually transported from Karen State to Mon State by the Salween River and Martaban sea routes. The Buddhist armed group gives priority to Buddhist monks to build temples, sources say.

In Kyar Inn Seik Kyi township area alone, there are about 200 tons of logs felled by the Karen ceasefire group DKBA on a daily basis. The logs have been transported to inside Burma and to the border town, Three Pagodas Pass. There are about 200 furniture industries in the Three Pagodas Pass, which relies on the timber.

The logs in Dona mountain range along the Thai- Burma border and Three Pagodas Pass area are under the control of KNU and the illegal logging businessmen pay tax to the Karen armed group, says a Mon businessman, Nai Ong.

DKBA members and some of their partners involved in the illegal logging business have approached KNU, sources from the border said. Most of the big trees are under the control of the KNU.

Mon businessmen said that most of the big trees are gone and small trees are now being felled. During the summer season it is easy to transport the logs on ten wheelers compared to the rainy season when logs are transported by boat. The illegal logging businessmen pay tax to cross the checkpoints of KNU, DKBA, NMSP and SPDC.

In Tenasserim Division, the SPDC local commanders, Mon and Karen ceasefire groups and some companies are involved in the illegal logging business. Most of the money goes to financing their weapons and supplies purchase in which the timber in the deep forest of Ye Byu Township is being plundered.

Most of timber from the area is transported to central Burma and the border town of Kaw Thaung, opposite Ranong where it is dumped and then sent across the border into Thailand, says a Mon business man.

The SPDC’s crony firms implemented the mono cropping of oil palm trees in 1998 as part of a project scheduled to be finished by 2008. 20 companies such as Htoo, Asia Group, Shwe Than Lwin, Tayzakabar, and Kanbawza share 600,000 acres of land in the Division, a SPDC former township manager from Klein Aung of Ye Byu township, Tenasserim Division said.

The forest in the area was cut and burned down to make way for mono crops. At the moment, only 160,000 acres of land is being used and another 340,000 acres of land will be set aside for future agribusiness deals among the group.

In the eastern part of Ye Byu Township, Tenasserim alone, there are over 36 sawmills and over 1500 families working in the illegal logging industry. They earn 1500 to 2000 Kyats daily. They are ethnic Mon, Karen, Tavoyan and Burman.

To transport timber from the deep forest to the sawmills in the area, trucks, elephants, oxen, buffalo and human labor are used. Some young people under 18 work under dangerous conditions to make a living. Mr. Nai Nay Zaw Aung aged 16, lost his leg due to a rafting accident when transporting the logs.

Many say that deforestation in Tenasserim Division resulted in the water crisis last year, in which the local people in Ye Byu Township had to dig into a stream to get drinking water. “Last summer, we have to dig into the stream to get water that was the first time we had a water crisis. We have traditionally relied on mountain stream water to fulfill our basic needs,” Nai Buu said.

The current price of one ton of timber in Mon State is around four to five hundred thousand Kyats, sources from central Mon State say. However, the price at the border town, Three Pagodas Pass, is 4,800 and 5,000 Baht. one Baht is 27 Kyats in exchange rate recently.

In Pegu Division, the timber from the Pegu mountain range is transported to Mon State at roughly 200 tons daily. The northern part of Mon State, such as Kyaik Hto (Kyaik Htaw), Paung and Bee-lin township use timber from the area, Mr. Nai Rot, a young Mon community worker from Paung Township says.

Yadana gas pipeline from Tanasserim Division to Karen State and Thailand State, to transport 220 miles of gas through a pipeline from the Yadana gas station in Tenasserim Division to Thailand, several thousand tons of trees were felled to make clearance at 100 feet around the pipeline. Also, trees were felled so that the Myaing Kalay cement factory could be built in Karen State.

Wood-fuel Problem in Lower Burma
Asia accounts for 46% of world production of wood-fuel and in Burma environmentalists roughly estimate that per capita consumption is at a high level in Burma, in which there are no official statistics. In addition to forested areas, other wooded land all over lower Burma is also under threat; villagers use fuel-wood (wood for direct use as fuel and for conversion into charcoal) as the main source of household energy.

One family consumes about two or tree tons of wood-fuel per year, says Nai Rotha. Some parts of lower Burma plant quick growth trees on their farms to use in cooking, since there are no small trees in their area.

The people cannot use the natural gas that flows directly in front of their villages. A lot of labour goes into growing trees for cooking to solve the fuel problem. Some people, who live along the coast, collect wood floating in the ocean.

In Kyaik Maraw Township, Mon State, SPDC local commanders gave permission to the local people to collect wood from the forest to make charcoal, which is transported to urban cities.

For Building Military Camps

To build new battalions in Mon State, SPDC soldiers use trees including those in family owned gardens, “They cut down all the big trees,” sources from the area said. There are at least 20 new battalions in Mon State in Ye township. The timber is not only used to build military camps, but to sell to local people to finance their expenditures as part of the SPDC’s self sufficient policy in which the commanders need two millions Kyats to manage their battalion for one year.

SPDC commanders order local people to collect timber from each village to build military camps and new schools in southern Ye township, a Mon community leader from the area said under the condition of anonymity. The people go in their own garden to cut all the big trees down on orders from the local commanders. Each village pays at least ten tons of logs per year. There are about 20 villages in southern Ye township area.

Railroad Construction
The building of the railroad between Mon State and Tenasserim Division during 1996-1994 has also contributed to deforestation in this area; trees all along the road were felled. Thousands of people from Mon State and Tenasserim Division were forced to chop down trees, clear away bush, and dig mines in the mountain by hand.

Extension of Rubber Plantation Scheme
The SPDC has plans to use 30,000 acres for rubber plantations in Mon State by next year, says a young Mon businessman from central Mon State. Per acre, the land for rubber plantation is worth between 20,000 and 100,000 Kyats.

Mon State has 300,000 acres of rubber plantations. The owners are starting to clear away the land for growing rubber trees. The area is situated between Mon State and Karen State.

“We cannot live on democracy. It is not enough for us just trying to get democracy. We must protect our environment; this is our life, our future. We must encourage everyone to fight against the destruction of our forests,” says Nai Raejae, a young Mon environmentalist from Ye township.

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