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Kon Tum forests in Vietnam at risk of disappearance over illegal logging

Thursday, April 23, 2015, 10:10 GMT+7

Vast primeval forests in Nam Sa Thay District of the Central Highlands province of Kon Tum have become the ‘hot spots’ of deforestation recently and been at risk of vanishing because of illegal logging.

>> An audio version of the story is available here

Foresters have admitted they cannot protect the forests from being destroyed as they do not have enough personnel.

Forest has covered most of Nam Sa Thay District bordering Cambodia for centuries but it has suffered from damage since the Se San River was blocked for building hydropower electricity plants in 2003.

Thus, thousands of hectares of primeval forests along the riverbank have become isolated and fallen prey to illegal loggers.

Big trees have been cut down and split into wood pieces measuring 40cm x 80 cm and dozens of meters in length.

They were found being carried to the riverbank and attached to rafts to drift under the water surface to downstream areas.

Dense traces of truck tires have been spotted in the forests.

After leaving their car and walking for two hours in the forest with the rangers one day, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporters saw many empty land plots by the riverbank, with hundreds of wood pieces lying on each of them.

In daytime, the forest rangers who stand on one side of the mountain can hear the sound of sawing machines operated by illegal loggers on the other side, according to a forester.

“But it would take us a day to walk to the area to interfere with their illicit activities. So we can’t keep the forests this vast,” he added.

In October last year, the People’s Committee of Kon Tum put together a big team including rangers, policemen, and army soldiers to patrol the Nam Sa Thay forests.

Illegal loggers have coped with them by moving to other surrounding parts of the forests and transporting wood pieces on modified motorbikes.

“They group themselves to carry timber out of the forests four or five times a day,” said a local in Ia Xier Commune in Kon Tum.

It happens in broad daylight but he rarely sees foresters check or stop them, he added.

Tran Tan Van, head of the local forest management unit, shook his head as saying, “This entire district has only 35 rangers,” hinting that his staff cannot prevent the forests from being ravaged by illegal loggers.

“We are granted just small funds to do this job,” Van added.

The Kon Tum police department said that illegal loggers even hire gangsters and drug addicts to guard the forests to warn them of rangers’ patrols.

A policeman said they once organized a raid and seized a lot of weapons from them.

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