Law of the jungle
By Son Nguyen in HCMC
The most striking issue mainstreamed in local media these days is probably the illegal logging of three giant trees known as sua, a rare wood species whose scientific name is Dalbergia tonkinensis prain, in the central province of Quang Binh’s Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. The whole picture regarding this issue can be termed anarchy, when looters, robbers, and cheaters roam the villages and the forest, while intervention from authorities is limited to slow reaction, if not inaction. In such a chaos, power prevails, and to onlookers’ suspicion, money talks.
The rumor spread out in mid-April that poachers had discovered and logged down the century-old trees in the national park, and had hired locals as porters to transport the wood out of the jungle. It is noted that a kilo of the rare wood can fetch some VND30 million, and each porter is paid many millions of Vietnam dong for each load of some 100 kilos carried out of the forest. Thanh Nien says the trees provide some 30 cubic meters of wood worth around VND1 trillion, or nearly US$50 million.
The amount is seen as a great treasure for any, from loggers to locals. But it seems to be of little value to authorities tasked with protecting the national resource, as seen in their inaction over the illegal activity.
Since mid-April, many newspapers have reported the bustling activity in the forbidden forest, but no drastic preventive measures were taken then. Tuoi Tre on April 25 dispatched reporters to the scene, but a commune official in Bo Trach District claimed to the paper that the information was still the rumor.
By then, huge volumes of the wood were still flowing out of the forest.
Forest rangers of the national park then inspected the forest, and pinpointed the site where the trees were felled. Despite the proof, top provincial leaders in a meeting on May 6 only promised to press criminal charges.
The transport of sua wood out of the forest peaked in the following days, with the climax being the fierce, bloody fighting on May 5 between porters and a gang who robbed the wood, and then between the gang and villagers who snatched back the wood, and then between the villagers and the self-claimed owners of the wood. In the fights, several were barbarically beaten, and four motorcycles and a seven-seat car were smashed.
Forest rangers then on May 7 ambushed a group of local porters, and seized five slabs of sua wood weighing some 366 kilos said to be worth some VND10 billion, according to Nguoi Lao Dong. Porters who fled away later said they lost seven slabs, not five as claimed.
It is noted that not until May 8 did the park authority send a proposal to grassroots police to ask for help in preventing the trespassing, says Nguoi Lao Dong.
These days, local people in Quang Binh Province’s Bo Trach District are still rushing into the forest in droves, with many collecting branches or digging up the roots of the trees and others helping illegal loggers to transport the sawn wood out. There are always some 500 villagers in the jungle at any given time, despite orders to close the forest from the national park authority. Vietnamnet says numerous clashes between villagers and criminals from other provinces have been taking place in the forest. Guns and knives and even mines have been used in such fighting. Those villagers able to flee the fighting are then robbed of all the wood they are carrying when leaving the forest.
Meanwhile, villages outside the forest are wrapped up in deadly silence with doors tight-locked and few people moving out into the street, according to Tuoi Tre.
Sai Gon Giai Phong says that after the recent fighting, many criminals disguised themselves as policemen have searched homes in the villages, and took away the wood.
Asked if there is a conspiracy between illegal loggers and forest rangers, Nguyen Van Huyen, deputy director of the national park, answers Vietnamnet that the accused connection is baseless. However, he says police will look into the case to see if there is any link.
Nguoi Lao Dong says that there is something fishy in the case as forest rangers may have been negligent in protecting the forest. A villager named Le Van Nghia says in the paper that “the illegal logging was known to locals several weeks ago, and hundreds of wood slaps have been carried out of the forest, so there is no reason why authorities cannot prevent the case.” Another says that whenever locals enter the forest, they are always closely checked by forest rangers, so “how can a huge volume of wood be easily transported out of the forest?”
Tuoi Tre relates that hundreds of people are romping in the forest, without signs of forest rangers showing up. The newspaper reports numerous makeshift tents are erected along paths in the national park, with hammocks hanging around, showing the people have been staying there for long without any intervention.
Nguyen Van Nam, police chief of Phuc Trach Commune, says in Thanh Nien that the giant trees have been logged down since February, and after being buried and concealed in the forest for a while have been sneaked out ever since. Dan Viet quotes hearsays as reporting that loggers have bribed forest rangers some VND30 billion to smoothen the illegal deal.
Together with the bloodshed, the chaos, and the instability across the villages, the conspiracy between forest rangers and illegal loggers if proven is just part of the harsh reality in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park: the law of the jungle.
The Saigon Times Daily