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Illegal logging in Aceh rampant despite moratorium

Jakarta Post - December 13, 2007

Ridwan Max Sijabat, Jakarta – Despite the imposition of a moratorium on logging in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam, illegal logging has been rampant, causing the state about Rp 123.7 billion (US$13.70 million) in losses the past six months.

A Greenomics Indonesia survey conducted from June to December, 2007, found some 100 places in forests along coastal areas where illegal logging trade took place between villagers and brokers.

It further said most of some 108,000 cubic meters of illegal logging went to post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction work in the province.

"The illegal timber was supplied mostly by brokers to the Aceh-Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR) and its foreign partners," Greenomics coordinator Vanda Meutia Dewi said in Jakarta on Tuesday.

She said the logging moratorium, which was set by the Aceh province government on June 6, 2007, was found ineffective because of the increasing demand for wood during the post-tsunami reconstruction of houses and public infrastructure the past three years.

BRR and international non-governmental organizations have developed at least 100,000 houses for the 2004 tsunami victims. "BRR bought 68 percent of the illegal timber, while international organizations accounted for another 28 percent," she said.

Vanda said if the illegal logging was not controlled, its volume could reach 216,000 cubic meters and cost the province Rp 247.42 billion in losses over the next six months. "That figure excludes illegal timber smuggled out of the province through the east coastal area," she added.

Vanda said the survey reported some 425,000 cubic meters of illegal timber was supplied annually to the province from North Sumatra, Riau and Kalimantan.

"Quantitatively, the supply of illegal timber for the reconstruction work decreased by 49 percent and many timber mills stopped operation after the imposition of the moratorium, but the smuggling of illegal logs out of the province has remained rampant," she said.

Greenomics' findings, however, was denied by spokesman for BRR Mirza Keumala, who said the reconstruction agency was committed to environmental conservation in the province and used more iron to replace wood in its housing projects.

He said BRR had no capacity to check whether its partner companies and foreign NGOs used illegal timber in carrying out their constructions projects.

"BRR has asked its partner companies and international aid agencies not to use wood from illegal logging, but it is the task of local authorities to take action against any companies violating the law," he said.