Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Forest plunder

Forest plunder (Malaysia)

by Maria J. Dass and Meena L. Ramadas

SHAH ALAM (Feb 10, 2010):
Investigations into illegal logging on 120ha of state land in Hulu Tamu, Hulu Selangor, last week have uncovered what the authorities feared -- the plundering of the forests had extended to five other areas nearby.

State Forestry Department director Borhanudin Arshad confirmed this but said he could not divulge details and the exact locations as investigations were ongoing.

It is learnt department officers have been stationed at these sites, including in Hulu Tamu, Ulu Rening and in the forest reserve along the Batang Kali-Genting Highlands road, to prevent further illegal felling after two raids saw the seizure of about RM4 million worth of logs.

Selangor executive councillor for environment, tourism and consumer affairs Elizabeth Wong said the department has sent in large teams to the affected areas.

“The illegal loggers have allegedly encroached on state land, forest reserves, orang asli and Malay reserve land, and on land belonging to government-linked companies,” she said.

Wong said she is waiting for a complete report from the forestry department.

Last Wednesday, the Selangor government revealed that a total of 1,500 logs with an estimated value of RM2 million had been seized in Hulu Tamu, near an orang asli settlement, the day before.

'theSun' learnt that another 1,000 logs also worth RM2 million were seized later that week in another operation.

Wong said the loggers had offered a RM5,000 bribe to forestry department enforcement officers when they seized the logs last Tuesday. Following this, two loggers were arrested during a sting operation on the same day.

It was also revealed last week that some officers of the Orang Asli Affairs Department (JHEOA) may have been involved in allowing the illegal loggers to encroach into state and orang asli reserves.

However, when contacted, JHEOA director-general Datuk Mohd Sani Mistam denied allegations that the department was involved in the illegal logging.

“We have already checked with our state department and there was no approval from us to allow them to log the area,” he told 'theSun'.

“If anyone is involved, we will cooperate with the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigations into the matter,” said Mohd Sani, in response to the state’s call for MACC to probe the matter.

“The department will conduct its own investigations on this matter,” he said.

Selangor MACC declined to comment and its federal counterpart said they will respond to queries once they have obtained the information.

When 'theSun' visited the illegal logging site in Ulu Rening on Tuesday, Forestry Department officers had taken over a "kongsi" previously occupied by the loggers and their workers.

A department official said the workers left behind tools, about 10 mattresses, cooking supplies and utensils and clothes. Also abandoned were an excavator, a tractor and a lorry.

The officer who declined to be named said they have been stationed at the site since Thursday to keep watch over the seized logs and equipment. His colleagues are also stationed in areas nearby where illegal logging activities have been discovered over the last few days. -- theSun