06/02/2006, 00.00
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Beijing tries to clamp down on illegal timber imports from Myanmar

But the illegal trade continues: soldiers do apprehend traffickers but instead of arresting them, they merely fine them. And the border is not really guarded at night.

Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The government of Beijing has closed its borders with Myanmar, ex Burma, to block illegal timber imports. But those violating the law are not arrested and the border is not guarded during the night.

Global Witness, a London-based human rights organization, said Beijing had ordered Chinese traders to leave Myanmar and charged soldiers with guarding the border. The decision came after decades of rampant logging by Chinese firms of forests in northern Myanmar.

"This represents a major breakthrough for all those working to halt the predatory exploitation of Burma's forest," Mike Davis of the London-based agency said in press release. The statement said more than 1.5 million cubic meters of timber imported by China, worth an estimated US 0 million, were illegally produced. Davis called on the authorities of both countries to put a stop to the illegal business and to replace it with a legal and sustainable approach.

But despite the ban, trade continues. A Burmese man who lives near the border said traffickers used back roads or traveled at night when controls were less strict. The Beijing ordinance stipulates that traders will be arrested and their vehicles confiscated if they are apprehended. "But when soldiers catch traders, they release them after charging a fine of 5,000 to 6,000 yuan from (3 to 8)," said the resident, who requested anonymity. "Anyhow, usually the Chinese troops are withdrawn early in the evening. One vehicle carries about five to six tons of timber. Nearly 1,000 tons still enter China every day."

A senior leader from the Kachin Independence Organization said clamping down on the illegal trade will have serious repercussions on local villagers, as logging is their principal means of income

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