Vientiane Times, 4 September 2014
Almost 180,000 cubic metres of timbers, including many illegal logs were excavated in Attapeu province in the 2013-14 fiscal year, according to a report from the Provincial Department of Agriculture and Forestry. Of the total figures, more than 7,000 cubic metres were confiscated from illegal activities, sparking concerns about widespread illegal logging in the province.
Officials said this is just the figure authorities had seized but the real figure could be considerably more. The department director Mr Vixay Saysengchan said authorities had seized 47 vehicles carrying over 4,000 cubic metres of illegal logs in the province for 2013-14.
There are several ways that illegal loggers operate but the most common way is that businesspeople hire villagers to cut down trees and sell the timber to them. The surging demand for timber in neighbouring countries has put forests in Laos under threat despite the government’s efforts to deal with the problem. According to the report, a total of 173,925 cubic metres of logs were excavated in the 2013-14 fiscal year. Of the total, 21,000 cubic metres were excavated from road projects, electricity transmission lines, 66,000 cubic metres were excavated from Xe Kaman hydropower project, 7,000 cubic metres from illegal activities and the rest from other development projects.
An official from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry who asked not be named said in many cases these illegal activities were facilitated by or directly involve corrupt government officials. Illegal logging not only degrades the country’s forests but also causes great loss to the nation and the environment. Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong visited Attapeu province in December last year, calling for provincial authorities to protect the province’s natural resources from illegal logging.
The PM said he was very concerned about illegal logging in Attapeu province, as forestry loss would affect the environment and the livelihoods of local people. “I want you [local authorities] to protect natural resources. When all of our timber is taken, will we still say that we love the nation? It’s hard to say. Will we allow our forest to continue to be taken?” he said. “The main role of national defence and public security is to protect the lives and properties of the nation. The governor told me that our security forces are sometimes reluctant to inspect traders and those cutting down the country’s trees. When our natural resources are taken away, what else we will protect?” Given the importance of this sector, the government has decided to inspect wood processing factories in Savannakhet before extending the scheme to Champassak and other provinces. The move is part of the government’s efforts to crack down on illegal logging.