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Police officer drowns in bid to stop loggers

Police in Indaw Township, Sagaing Division, recover the body of a colleague who drowned while in pursuit of a barge believed to be carrying illegally logged timber. (Photo: DVB)

The body of a police officer who drowned after his boat capsized while chasing illegal loggers on a river in Sagaing Division earlier this week was recovered on Wednesday.

Police were pursuing a barge believed to be smuggling illegal timber on the Meza Creek in Sagaing’s Indaw Township when their speedboat overturned at around 9pm on 10 October. Wunna Swe, the deputy-in-charge of the Meza Creek Bridge police outpost, went missing in the incident and was presumed drowned.

According to a police report, the boat tipped over as it sped up about one mile east of the bridge. Three other policemen who were on the boat made it to shore. The district police subsequently launched a search mission to find Wunna Swe and discovered his body in the creek near the town of Tigyaing, about 50 km south of Indaw, two days later.

Indaw Township police have launched an investigation into the incident.

Meanwhile, forestry and police officials in Pegu Division’s Kyauktaga Township seized more than three tons of padauk wood on Tuesday as it was being smuggled in a six-wheel truck on a highway outside the town.

A forestry official said law enforcement personnel inspecting vehicles on the road spotted a suspicious-looking truck as it came to a stop due to a mechanical failure. Upon searching the vehicle, they discovered that it was being used to transport 28 lengths of the highly valued timber on the back.

Two people — the truck’s driver, Kyi Myo Min, and his assistant, Zaw Min Htike — were detained and are facing charges under the Forestry Law.

“The driver and his assistant said they bought the timber in Thandaung near Taungoo after delivering goods from Rangoon. They covered the merchandise with a tarpaulin sheet, which is what raised our suspicions,” said an officer from the Kyauktaga Forestry Department.

In June, the Myanma Timber Enterprise declared a moratorium on logging in Burma. While the ban will last just one year in most of the country, in the heavily logged Pegu mountain range, it will be in place for 10 years.

In recent months, efforts to rein in smuggling have met with increasingly violent resistance, including attacks with swords and the deliberate drowning of a forestry official.