Soldiers accused of trading ‘illegal’ hardwoods from Paletwa
24 January 2013: Soldiers from Burma Army Light Infantry Battalion No. 289 get involved in illegal business of trading hardwoods from Paletwa Township, Chin State to Rakhine State.
A ferryboat carrying hardwoods known in Burmese as Pyinkado, accompanied by Sergeant Aye Lwin and his soldiers, left for Kyaukdaw of Rakhine State from Thayawa port of Paletwa Town at 4:30am today.
The soldiers team up with Daw Ohnmar, a Rakhine resident in Paletwa, to smuggle ‘illegal’ timber from Paletchaung to the adjacent state of Rakhine on occasions, according to local sources.
U Kyaw Nyein, Chin State Minister of Forestry and Mines, was quoted as saying by the Khumi Media Group that no official licenses have been issued for trading other hardwoods apart from teak in Chin State.
Paletwa Township in the southern part of Chin State has got a vast swath of ‘unspoiled’ forests enriched with various kinds of hardwood and softwood timber and also home to the native fauna and flora.
U Win Tun, Union Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry said the government had already taken measures in establishing the forest in Paletwa including Kimo mountain as a reserve in response to a question raised over protection of forests by a Chin MP from Paletwa Township constituency at Hluttaw sessions in Naypitaw in September 2011.
The Paletwa Chins said that similar incidents of smuggling out hardwoods into Rakhine State by using ferryboats were seen on a number of times in the past.
“Plenty of timber was sneaked out into Kyaukdaw in a ferryboat of U Aung Nyunt Hlaing, which was normally used for carrying bricks in October last year,” an eyewitness told the Khumi Media Group.
The ‘smuggled’ hardwoods from Paletwa Township are eventually taken to a businessman named U Hla Maung Thein in Kyaukdaw, according to a ferryboat worker, whose name is not revealed.
No proper action has been taken against the matter although the relevant authorities including the local forestry department are already informed of the ‘illegal’ situation, the Paletwa elders said.
Dozens of employees from Department of Forestry Office in Sagaing Divisions were detained in Tamu, an Indo-Burma border town in 2011 after being charged with getting involved in smuggling illegal timber and forest products.
Most of the timber and hardwood was from parts of Chin State and upper Sagaing Division, according to a report by the Irrawaddy.
The authorities have been accused of engaging in ‘illegal’ logging and trading of timber from Burma into neighbouring countries including India through secret activities with the smugglers, according to sources from local communities.
Burma Army LIB No. 289 established its military base in Myothit ward of Paletwa town since early 2000s after having forced local residents to a new location.
“They [soldiers] came, ordered us to move out and took our fields and land. They confiscated the whole ward including a Christian church, without any kind of compensation,” recalled a Khumi Chin from Rangoon.
It is estimated that there are over 400,000 acres of forest reserve; 600,000 acres of reserve and 1.3 million acres of protected reserves in Chin State.
Reporting by Peter Lawilu with Thawng Zel Thang