Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Cops, rangers at loggerheads over haul of illegal timber

Rizal Harahap , The Jakarta Post , Pekanbaru | Wed, 05/20/2009

The Riau Police and Bengkalis Forest Rangers are embroiled in a dispute over claims to a haul of 2,200 logs allegedly illegally felled in Mandau district, Bengkalis. The logs were found in the form of wooden rafts, stretching almost 12 kilometers long, in two canals in Tegar village, Pematang Pudu subdistrict, and in Jembatan Dua village, Petani subdistrict.

When the police found them, most of the logs, measuring 7 to 9 meters long and with diameters of up to 40 centimeters, were marked with "DK", the hallmark of the Dinas Kehutanan, or forestry agency.

A signboard proclaiming the April 2009 finding of the logs by Bengkalis Forest Rangers had also been put up.

Riau Police chief Brig. Gen. Adjie Rustam Ramdja said the logs were seized early last week and had been declared the police's seizure.

The police have been moving the logs from the canals for cataloging.

The logs, according to the police, may have been illegally logged from the limited production forests of Rangau, on the Rokan Hilir-Bengkalis border, some 15 kilometers away from the canals.

"We're also checking information that the logs are the forest ranger's findings. We don't want to get into a conflict with them," Adjie said Monday during a visit to the site.

But the Bengkalis Forest Rangers accuse the police of usurping its haul, saying the logs were seized during an operation it conducted since April with the Mandau district Forestry Management Unit (UPTD).

"It's puzzling that the logs we marked were seized by the police without coordinating with us. We haven't handed over the case yet," said Bengkalis ranger commander Joko Triyono.

He added the logs had been left at the site pending the issuance of a license to do so, while also preparing the necessary equipment and funds.

He also said his unit would press ahead with the investigation, despite the police also making its own case.

"We will continue measuring the logs, as so far only about 800 have been cataloged," he said.

The "DK" marks, he went on, were stamped onto the checked logs to make sure they did not go missing during cataloging for evidence.

Separately, based on its initial investigations, the police have frozen the operations of wood sawmill company PT Multi Eka Jaya Timber (MEJT) in Jembatan Dua village for allegedly receiving illegally felled logs.

"We've cordoned off the mill and confiscated 59,000 pieces of timber in the form of sticks and boards," he said.

MEJT owners Ali and Surya Darma Hasibuan, according to Adjie, admitted the logs belonged to them but said they bought them from a logging company.

"They will be questioned to verify their claims," Adjie said, adding no suspects had yet been named in the case.

He added the police were investigating the possible involvement of three Bengkalis forest rangers identified only as AL, RS and MN, who allegedly frequently seized illegal logs from locals, stamped the "DK" marks onto them and sold them to MEJT through bids.

Head ranger Joko denied the allegations, saying he was ready to provide the police with information regarding the status of the logs.

"We have nothing to hide. Please don't corner forest rangers. We're just doing out our duty saving the state's assets," Joko said.