Rotten in the root
By Son Nguyen in HCMC
The country’s forest coverage is shrinking and diminishing days in days out, with the agriculture ministry at a conference this week estimating the loss at nearly 32,000 hectares in the past five years, or nearly 20 hectares a day. Of the many reasons behind the alarming loss of the forest, illegal logging now turns the most worrying problem aggravated by the conspiracy between forest rangers and loggers. The latest case, as front-paged in local media this week, has angered the public when senior officials in charge of forest protection in the north-central province of Nghe An are found to have been deeply involved in illegal logging.
All began with an accident when a truck upturned while carrying some 12 cubic meters of wood, killing 10 porters on the vehicle sitting or lying atop the truck. The accident taking place shortly after midnight last Wednesday brings into broad daylight the appalling nature of the crime, as it is later learned that the forest rangers not only manage to destroy the forest they are mandated to protect, but also are indifferent to human lives. Four forest rangers have been detained in the case, including Trinh Thanh Long, head of Pu Huong Forest Inspection Agency and deputy director of Pu Huong Nature Reserve. Long was arrested after his subordinates claimed they were ordered by him to accompany the truck, and that he is himself the owner of the illegal wood.
As reported, the truck, accompanied by a sedan and a sport utility vehicle carrying forest rangers, was driving through a pass when the accident took place. Seven porters were instantly killed in the accident while three others lost their lives when being rushed to hospital. When the accident took place, the two accompanying vehicles approached it to rescue two forest rangers on the truck while leaving other wounded people to their fates, according to Nguoi Lao Dong.
Tuoi Tre reports that a forest ranger’s badge stained with blood was found at the scene, which is later proved to belong to Dao Cong Thang, head of the Quy Hop Forest Inspection Station. “Thang and other forest rangers hurriedly fled the scene to evade responsibility as well as the human conscience that requires them to save the victims,” comments the newspaper.
Pu Huong Nature Reserve, says Tuoi Tre, is part of a vast, magnificent primitive forest in western Nghe An Province covering more than 1.3 million hectares that has recently been recognized by UNESCO as the World Biosphere Reserve. Regrettably, and tragically, forest areas are falling victim to the very people mandated to protect them, and the heart-rending case is just one among the numerous violations committed by forest rangers, according to the paper. Tuoi Tre also recalls how Nghe An authorities are mulling disciplining the provincial forestry department director for his earlier fishy activities related to illegal logging.
After the aforesaid accident, Vietnamnet publishes a photo essay showing how illegally-logged timber is amassed along a long section of National Highway 48C, stretching over 60km in Nghe An Province. The news website says illegally harvested timber is placed on either side of the street and in the backyard of local houses, and questions the responsibility of Pu Huong Forest Inspection Station.
In the aftermath of the accident, deputy general director of Vietnam Forestry Department Ha Cong Tuan says on Vnexpress he feels ashamed and painful when forest rangers sit in the same boat with illegal loggers. Tuan admits that “the case of Pu Huong forest rangers conspiring with criminals is not the first one, but in this case, the ring is well organized.” He also comments that “there are rings of conspiracy between forest rangers, illegal loggers and grassroots administration authorities.”
Showing the same concern, the head of the country’s Forest Rangers Department Nguyen Huu Dung, is quoted as saying on this online paper that illegal logging has become so widespread, as seen in the case of 15 carriages of rare wood being transported openly by train from the Central Highlands to Bac Ninh Province.
Investigations by police into the case are continuing, with several more forest rangers being summoned these days on suspicion of their possible involvement in the ring.
The case, however, is just the floating part of a possibly colossal iceberg, as admitted by top forestry officials above.
The public has long been aware of the country’s vast areas of forest being felled owing to either the dereliction of duty on the part of forest rangers or their very involvement. Logging and transporting timber can impossibly be kept secret without the conspiracy and participation of the so-called blue-uniform loggers, says Nguoi Lao Dong.
With forest rangers involved in this organized crime, it is clear that the fight against illegal logging has become all the tougher, as it is already rotten in the root. Without drastic measures from the Government and related agencies, in ten years’ time or so, vast areas of forest will be stripped bare, or even worse, such resources of the country may become history and are only known to future generations in documentaries, says Tuoi Tre.
The Saigon Times Daily