Laos Prime Minister Asks Public to Help Cut Down the ‘Log Mafia’

Illegal rosewood stockpiles

Illegal rosewood stockpiles. Photo: Maky.

Laos Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith took to Facebook this week to call for a strict implementation of his country’s timber export ban and asked the public to become forest watchdogs in the face of a so-called “log mafia” that is attempting to evade the moratorium.

The new Lao government banned the export of logs and timber on May 13 in a bid to reduce rampant and widespread illegal wood shipments outside the small Southeast Asian nation’s borders, and the government estimates that there are more than 100 truckloads of illegal lumber stashed in the forests as smugglers try to evade the ban.

While the moratorium requires all ministries, provincial governors, and mayors to implement strict measures to control and inspect the felling of trees, log transportation, and logging businesses, it’s unclear how effective Sisoulith’s appeal will be, as some lower-ranking government officials appear to be less than enthusiastic about enforcing the ban and some Laotians fear retaliation from what they refer to as the “log mafia.”

‘They know each other’

“The governor pretends to inspect the loggers for smuggling, but in fact the officials assigned to work in the field help the smugglers export all the timber before the rainy season because they know each other,” a government official in Khammuane province told RFA’s Lao Service.

The official, a member of the committee established to monitor logging in the province, told RFA that attempts to run a contraband load of lumber out of the country literally blew the smugglers’ cover in early May.

“At first the smugglers would export 170 trucks of timber to Vietnam, but on May 2 a Vietnamese truck loading timber had an accident and an explosion killed nine Vietnamese workers, so the public was alerted,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Then the smugglers hid the timber in sawmills and forests.”

The Sayphouluang, Yernlavy, Ban Phone, Don Peuy, and Saynamyom sawmills, where the timber is hidden, lie in the Yommalath and Boualapha districts in Khammuane province, the official said. In Khamkeuth district, Bolikhamsay province, logs and timber were found hidden in sawmills and in the forests, he added.

Over the past two decades, 20 square kilometers in the Khamkeuth district were designated as a development area for the Phoudoi Development Company that has extensively logged the area.

A district resident urged the government to conduct an investigation of logging in the area, telling RFA that smugglers have hidden thousands of cubic meters of cut logs there.

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Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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