Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Sarawak gangsters returning to illegal logging

2009/04/15 New Straits Times

KUCHING, Sarawak Wednesday 15th April

Second Minister of Planning and Resource Management Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan does not discount the possibility that gangsters have returned to the lucrative illegal logging business in Sarawak.

Two years ago, hundreds of gangsters were arrested by the police in joint operations with the Sarawak Forestry Corporation and the army in areas where illegal logging took place.

Among those arrested were the brains behind these activities. As a result of the joint operations, illegal logging was curbed and those gangsters who managed to escape arrest were lying low or gone into hiding in neighbouring countries.

Speaking to reporters after launching the state level World Forestry Day at the Sarawak Forest Research Centre at Kota Sentosa, near here, Awang Tengah said yesterday he suspected that the gangsters had returned.

"I am not discounting this possibility because there seems to be illegal logging here and there," he said.

He wanted the local communities to help the enforcement agencies, like the Sarawak Forestry Corporation and the police to stop illegal logging.

"What we want is fast and accurate information so that we can act speedily," he said.

Earlier in his speech, Awang Tengah said non-governmental organisations in the West should check their facts before accusing Sarawak of not practising sustainable forest management (SFM).

"If they care to check their facts, they will know that we have been practising SFM since 1919 during the time of Rajah Brooke. And in 1954, we came out with the statement of forest policy of SFM long before the formation of Malaysia," he said, referring to repeated calls lately by NGOs in the West to boycott timber and timber products from Malaysia, especially Sarawak.

He said the issue on SFM, therefore, should not have arisen any more and even the International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) had accepted that Sarawak was among the countries with the best SFM practices.

Sarawak saw a 30 per cent drop or RM4 billion in the value of exports of timber and timber products due to the global economic meltdown since last year.