About 108 hectares of forest in the south-central Vietnamese province of Phu Yen have been chopped down by locals in the past two weeks, with the people responsible claiming they were hired to do so.
The area of forest was leveled by residents in Phu Mo Commune, Dong Xuan District between April 24 and May 6, with local authorities failing to prevent the deforestation despite early detection.
Piles of tree trunks could still be seen lying across the area on Wednesday afternoon as the scene has been sealed to support investigation, according to an observation by a Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reporter.
On the afternoon of May 6, competent authorities discovered over 50 people cutting down trees with chainsaws and axes and requested them to leave the scene, said Vu Cong Tam, chief of the forest protection department in Dong Xuan.
The suspects, who are residents of a local ethnic minority, said that they were paid to do the job, Tam continued.
Initial examinations showed that over 108 hectares of the forest has been destroyed with the average timber volume estimated at 10 cubic meters in every hectare of land, the official stated.
About 27.5 hectares of the destroyed area previously had thick vegetation while 21.6 others was planned as growth protection forests, according to Tam.
Preliminary investigation revealed that the people were employed by two members of the same ethnic minority.
However, La O Hoa, chairman of the People’s Committee in Phu Mo, suspected that the two ‘employers’ also received money from outside sources.
“Most of the local residents are poor people. How can they have such financial capacity to have a massive forested area demolished?" Chairman Hoa explained.
Sluggish response from authorities
According to Dang Ngoc Anh, chairman of the People’s Committee in Dong Xuan, leaders of the Party and People’s Committee in Phu Mo must take responsibility for letting the incident reach such a devastating stage.
Local officials were sluggish in dealing with the situation, Anh said, adding that the case was discovered on April 26, two days after local people started felling the trees.
Chairman Hoa explained that it take a long time for reports on the case to be delivered to competent authorities as the forest area was far from the commune’s center, adding that it was difficult to travel back and forth between the two locations.
Tam stated that it took quite a while to form a team of inspectors. The incident also happened during the four-day holiday that commemorated Reunification Day (April 30) and International Workers’ Day (May 1), he added.
“The exact damage will be calculated and those who hired local people to inflict such destruction on the forest will be severely punished as per the law,” Chairman Anh asserted.
In a brief interview with Tuoi Tre, Le Van Truc, vice-chairman of the People’s Committee in Phu Yen Province, said he has ordered the equivalent agency in Dong Xuan and the provincial Forest Protection Department to coordinative with relevant bodies to probe the case.