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Logging war: Truck runs checkpoint in Pegu

A barrier was smashed down when a truck, suspected of carrying illegal logs, crashed through a checkpoint in Myochaung, Kyauktaga Township, Pegu Division, on 3 September 2016. (PHOTO: DVB)

A truck suspected to be carrying contraband timber ran a checkpoint in Kyauktaga, Pegu Division, on Saturday, leaving one forestry official injured.

The incident is the latest in a spate of violent confrontations between law enforcement officials and illegal loggers in the township, which is situated 160 kilometres north of Rangoon.

A forestry official in Kyauktaga told DVB that the department’s personnel and police were manning a checkpoint in the town of Myochaung on a road parallel to the Rangoon-Mandalay Highway when a convoy of six construction vehicles, accompanied by several motorbikes, came along around 6am on 3 September. The vehicles refused to stop when signaled to do so, and ran over the road block, hitting a forestry staffer on his arm.

“The checkpoint is active between 6pm and 6am. A forestry employee was injured in the incident that took place on Saturday morning at the checkpoint,” said the official, adding that police have opened an investigation into the case.

On 1 July, DVB reported that law enforcement officials had opened fire on trucks carrying illegal timber as they tried to run a checkpoint in Myochaung. It is unknown whether this was the same checkpoint where Saturday’s incident occurred.

A 9 August feature story titled The Fight for Pegu’s Forests Gets Violent, by Htet Kaung Linn of Myanmar Now, describes several cases where forestry officers have faced down illegal loggers in the Kyauktaga area.

It noted that while the new government, led by the National League for Democracy, proposed a one-year moratorium on logging in major forest areas, the Ministry of Resources and Environmental Conservation issued a 10-year logging ban for the Pegu [Bago] Range, in recognition of the dire situation of its forests.

“The 475-kilometre stretch of mountains in central Burma was once densely forested and populated with wildlife, but now faces some of the worst logging and poaching in the country,” wrote Htet Kaung Linn.

He added: “Minister of Resources and Environmental Conservation Ohn Win told parliament on 29 July that government operations against loggers had increased in the past six months and netted 15,000 tons of illegal timber, including 1,274 tons in Pegu Division.”

Meanwhile, in Sagaing Division’s Katha District, trucks carrying illegal timber were seized by forestry officials on 2 September. According to the forestry department in the Katha town of Indawgyi, four trucks carrying timber weighing 18 tons in total were stopped by forestry and police officials at a road checkpoint in the village-tract of Gwegyi on Friday morning.

The officials detained a man identified as Kyaw Soe, who was in one of the trucks. The drivers managed to escape on foot.

A ban on the export of Burmese timber was put into effect on 1 April 2014. Then in April this year, a total ban on logging was enacted by the new Aung San Suu Kyi-led government in a bid to save Burma’s forests.

According to Forestry Ministry data, forest cover had shrunk to 47 percent of land area in 2010, compared to 58 percent in 1990.