Archive for July, 2011

July 31, 2011

Vietnam: Army ‘colluding’ in Laos deforestation

View Original Source:  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14328213

By Rachel Harvey BBC South East Asia correspondent

An international lobbying group has accused the Vietnamese army of involvement in the illegal export of timber from neighbouring Laos.

The Environmental Investigation Agency says the multi-million-dollar trade is causing the rapid disappearance of some of the region’s last tropical forest.

A Vietnamese military-owned company named in the report said it acted in full compliance with the laws of Laos.

The timber is processed in Vietnam into furniture with much exported to Europe.

The new EIA report comes at a time when the European Union is drafting new legislation to try to tighten regulation of the timber trade.

‘Full compliance’

Working undercover, the EIA said it had discovered that laws banning the export of raw timber from Laos were being routinely and openly flouted.

Most of the logs are being sent over the border to feed Vietnam’s booming wood processing industry and to make furniture, much of which ends up in Europe and the US.

The lobbying group traced logs from virgin tropical forest in Laos to a Vietnamese company owned by the military.

Speaking to the BBC, the cited company rejected the accusations made against it, saying it was in full compliance with the laws of Laos.

But the EIA says the trade is illegal and the only beneficiaries are corrupt government officials and well-connected businessmen.

Some of the wood comes from areas being cleared to build hydroelectric dams – part of an ambitious Laotian project to become a major supplier of electricity to the wider Mekong region.

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July 29, 2011

Mekong threatened by hydropower plants – LAOS: Villagers brace for relocation as dam project moves forward

View Original Source:  http://www.saigon-gpdaily.com.vn/National/Society/2011/7/95126/

Construction of hydropower plants in the upper regions of the Mekong River may result in damages of about US$2 billion annually, particularly in agro and aqua production.

This was disclosed in a discussion titled ‘Development challenges to the Mekong Delta ecology by hydropower reservoirs’, hosted by the Can Tho University and the Vietnam River Network yesterday.

Twelve hydropower plants are proposed to begin construction along the Mekong River. Eight of these will be in Laos, two in Cambodia and two between Laos and Thailand border areas.

Moreover, four hydropower plants are already in existence and a further eight are being proposed. Most of these projects are under China.  The Delta therefore faces serious threat to its eco-system.

Experts present at the discussion claimed that the Mekong Delta in Vietnam will be the worst affected should these hydropower plants come up.

By Dinh Tuyen – Translated by Hai Mien

LAOS: Villagers brace for relocation as dam project moves forward

View Original Source:  http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=93355

Photo: Mike Ives/IRIN. Life for future generations looks set to change

THADEAU, 29 July 2011 (IRIN) – Ting does not know exactly how the proposed Xayaburi hydropower dam will change his life, but he knows he will be forced to leave his village if it goes ahead.

“I don’t have any power over this decision,” said Ting, 50, who like other Lao villagers, goes by only one name. He earns a living ferrying passengers across the Mekong River in a motorized skiff and lives in Pakmon, a village of 150 families just 30km upstream from the proposed US$3.8 billion dam in the impoverished Xayaburi Province.

In June, a Lao official came to Pakmon and said any families who lived below 275m – the projected height of the dam’s reservoir – would be forced to relocate.

Now Ting and other villagers, many of whom earn no more than US$500 per year, are anxious to see if the dam will be built, and how their main livelihoods – fishing and farming – will be affected.

According to the US environmental group International Rivers, more than 2,100 people will be forcibly resettled and 200,000 people will be affected.

“Given the Laos government’s legacy of poor planning and uncompensated losses, the communities that will be forcibly resettled by the dam are likely to suffer greatly,” Ame Trandem, a spokesperson for International Rivers, told IRIN.

 

Photo: Mike Ives/IRIN. A fisherman ponders the future

“Unchartered waters”

Plans to dam the lower stretch of the Mekong, the world’s 12th-largest river, have put Laos on a collision course with its neighbours and environmentalists, who fear livelihoods, fish species and farmland could be destroyed, undermining the food security of thousands.

China, which borders Laos, already operates four dams on the upper stretch of the river.

In May, Khempheng Pholsena, chairwoman of the Laos National Mekong Committee, told reporters in Hanoi, Vietnam, that the Xayaburi dam would be “socially and environmentally sustainable”.

This followed critical statements by Thai, Cambodian and Vietnamese diplomats about the Xayaburi proposal  in April, calling for more studies of the dam’s trans-boundary impacts.

Then in an 8 June letter leaked to the media and addressed to Xayaburi Power Ltd, a subsidiary of Ch Karnchang, the Thai developer, the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines claimed to have “completed” its obligation for prior consultation regarding the dam proposal under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, which established a non-binding process for reviewing mainstream dam proposals by any of the four lower Mekong River Countries (MRC): Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Two weeks later, a group of MRC donors asked Laos to clarify its position, but has yet to receive a response.

As of late May, the project appeared to be dead, presumably because Laos did not want to “lose face” by breaking with Vietnam, a close political ally that has expressed strong opposition to the proposed dam, said Ian Baird, a Laos expert at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. However, the leaked letter suggests a different scenario, he maintains.

“It is hard to believe that the Lao government is going ahead with this [dam] despite strong opposition in the region, including from the Vietnam government, but that would appear to be the case,” he said.

“We are in unchartered waters on this one,” Baird added.

Livelihoods in the balance

Laos claims the Mekong dams would lift its people out of poverty and help it achieve its stated goal of escaping “least developed country” status by 2020.

But an independent report warned in October 2010 that the proposed dams would have “permanent and irreversible” effects on downstream communities and ecosystems.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton echoed those concerns on 22 July, warning at a conference in Bali that if one Mekong country built a dam, neighbouring countries would feel the environmental and social consequences.

Ch Karnchang has promised some villagers near the dam it will build them homes, a school and a hospital, and give them $250 in one-time loans for purchasing livestock, according to villagers.

Yet even if such benefits materialize, says David Blake, a UK-based Laos aquaculture expert, who has worked in Xayaburi Province, the villagers will have trouble finding places to grow lowland rice, a staple crop.

Villagers may be forced to give up farming and rely on handouts, Blake said, or else migrate to cities and “join the swelling ranks of urban, landless poor”.

mi/ds/mw

July 29, 2011

Lao forests feeding Vietnam industry – reports

View Original Source:  http://www.3news.co.nz/Lao-forests-feeding-Vietnam-industry—reports/tabid/1160/articleID/220456/Default.aspx

Friday, 29 Jul 2011 12:28p.m.

By Denis D. Gray

Despite an export ban, Vietnamese companies are smuggling logs from the once rich forests of Laos to feed a billion-dollar wood industry that turns timber into furniture for export to the Europe and the United States, according to an environmental group.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency alleged that the Vietnamese military was heavily involved in bribing Lao officials and then trafficking the timber on a massive scale to wood processing factories in neighbouring Vietnam. This was denied by the government and military.

Laos, with some of the last intact tropical forests in the region, in 1999 slapped a ban on the export of raw timber and says it is expanding its forest cover. But there are widespread reports of rampant logging, often associated with the country’s mushrooming dam projects and agricultural plantations.

“Vietnam is almost annexing areas of Laos to feed its own industries. The only winners in Laos are corrupt government officials and well-connected businessmen,” Julian Newman, an EIA staffer, said at a news conference. The group focuses on environmental crime worldwide.

Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga denied the allegations.

“There is no smuggling of timber from Laos by the Vietnamese military,” she said. “Vietnam pays special attention to environmental protection, strictly forbids smuggling and illegal exploitation of timber.”

She said all “smuggling and illegal exploitation of timber will be strictly dealt with in accordance with Vietnamese law. The governments of Vietnam and Laos have been and will be coordinating to prevent all smuggling activities including timber smuggling.”

Hanoi has acknowledged in the past that its forestry industry is unsustainable and it is currently negotiating with the European Community to certify its exported wood products as having originated from legal sources.

Vietnam, which exports some US$4 billion worth of wood products, banned domestic logging in 1997.

In an undercover operation in 2010 and 2011, the group said it tracked logs in Laos obtained by three Vietnamese enterprises as they made their way across the porous border to factories in Vietnam. It estimates the enterprises yearly smuggle some 8.8 million cubic feet (250,000 cubic metres) of wood worth some US$80 million.

One of the three was identified as the Vietnamese Company of Economic Cooperation, or COECCO, an enterprise run by the Vietnamese army and headquartered in the city of Vinh. The company has been in the logging business in Laos for two decades, EIA said.

But officials for the company in Vietnam said it had a license from the Lao government to import logs, obtaining them in exchange for roads and irrigation projects it has built in the country.

The company announced on its website last month the opening of bids for more than 1.2 million cubic feet (34,000 cubic metres) of logged limber imported from Laos. The officials declined to give their names, citing policy.

The Lao government, as part of its 2020 forestry strategy, says that it will “strictly implement the export ban on logs and sawn timber”. The ban is covered in a 1999 law and a number of subsequent government orders.

Commenting on the military company’s imports, Newman said it may have engineered a “one-off deal” because of its close ties with powerful Lao officials.

International aid agencies in Laos frequently complain that provincial power brokers often make their own business deals with foreign companies, sometimes in contravention to central government laws and regulations.

Video shot by EIA showed trucks hauling piles of logs from Laos into Vietnam and featured both Lao and Vietnamese businessmen talking about bribing Lao government officials to allow the illegal exports. EIA says its investigators posed as potential buyers.

Laos’ export ban is also routinely flouted by companies supplying the wood industries of neighbouring Thailand and China, EIA said.

EIA first exposed the illegal cross-border trade in 2008 and said that little has changed on the ground since, although the Vietnamese government is moving toward some kind of control.

“By the time the deals (with EU and others) are signed, there won’t be any forests left in Laos. Vietnam needs to get its act together and move quickly,” Newman said.

AP

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July 28, 2011

VIETNAMESE ARMY NAMED AS TIMBER SMUGGLER

 

PRESS RELEASE

THURSDAY, JULY 28, 2011 – FOR IMMEDIATE USE

VIETNAMESE ARMY NAMED AS TIMBER SMUGGLER

Military a key player in illegally transporting raw timber from Laos

BANGKOK: A new report released today exposes the pivotal role played by the Vietnamese military in a multi-million dollar operation which is smuggling threatened timber over the border from the shrinking forests of neighbouring Laos.

Laos has some of the Mekong region’s last intact tropical forests, but the London-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) report Crossroads: The Illicit Timber Trade Between Laos and Vietnam reveals its export ban on raw timber is routinely flouted on a massive scale to feed the ravenous timber processing industries of Vietnam, China and Thailand.

During undercover operations in 2010 and 2011, EIA agents posing as timber buyers tracked a trail of corruption and inadequate enforcement back from the busy furniture factories and ports of Vietnam to its border with Laos and beyond.

The forests of Laos support the livelihoods of millions of rural and indigenous people but are seriously threatened by over-exploitation; such is the volume of illegal timber flowing through Laos’ porous borders that its furniture manufacturing industry is finding it cannot supply orders due to a lack of raw materials,.

Through investment in logging, plantations and hydropower projects, Vietnamese firms have appropriated large swathes of Lao forests, yet the only winners in Laos are corrupt Government officials and well-connected businessmen. Meanwhile, Vietnamese logging companies and furniture factories are booming on the back of the illegal trade, exporting billions of dollars worth of finished wood products to the major markets of the USA and European Union.

And EIA’s investigations revealed that one of the biggest loggers in Laos is a company owned by the Vietnamese military.

Investigators first encountered the Vietnamese Company of Economic Cooperation (COECCO) in October 2010 during a visit to Qui Nhon port, documenting huge piles of logs bearing green paint marks and tagged with yellow labels bearing a Vietnamese name which translated into Company of Economic Cooperation – Ministry of Defence (or COECCO). A port worker said 95 per cent of the logs had come from Laos and most were owned by the Vietnamese military; specifically Military Zone 4.

Similarly marked logs were observed in a huge storage area between the two formal checkpoints at the Bo Y border crossing and EIA was eventually able to confirm that most of them had come from logging operations linked to the construction of a nearby hydropower dam.

To uncover more details of the company’s operations, EIA investigators travelled to COECCO’s headquarters in Vinh City, Vietnam, in May 2011 and learnt COECCO has been in the timber trade and logging business in Laos for more than 20 years, that it sources most of its logs from Lao dam clearance sites and that it is one of a handful of companies permitted to carry out logging in these areas.

A well-connected Lao company is also making a fortune trading logs to Vietnam; the Phonesack Group, the boss of which is connected with the Lao Government, prefers to send logs across the border while its own wood processing struggles to get supplies of raw material.

EIA Head of Forest Campaign Faith Doherty said: “EIA first exposed the illicit log trade between Laos and Vietnam in 2008, and our latest investigations reveal that sadly nothing has changed.

“The governments of Vietnam and Laos urgently need to work together to stem the flow of logs and curb the over-exploitation of Laos’ precious forests before it’s too late, and the Vietnamese military must be excluded from logging operations in Laos.

“With a new Timber Regulation coming into force within European markets in 2013, both Vietnam and Laos have a lot at stake and urgently need to work with the European Union.”

URGENT CALL TO ACTION – FROM EIA

1. THE GOVERNMENT OF LAOS SHOULD:

• Enforce its log export ban

• Publish details of all logging quotas and the selection process

• Clarify rules for converting forest land for plantations

2. THE GOVERNMENT OF VIETNAM SHOULD:

• Respect the policies of the Lao Government by blocking log imports from the country

• Hold bilateral talks with the Government of Laos over illicit wood trade between the two countries

• Work with Vietnamese wood industry associations to exclude Lao logs from its supply chain

• Exclude military businesses from carrying out logging operations in Laos

3. THE EUROPEAN UNION SHOULD:

• Ensure that any VPA discussions with Vietnam and Laos address the issue of log trade between the two countries

• Ensure that VPA talks include the full range of stakeholders

• Promote forest governance lessons from FLEGT into the development of REDD+, specifically in terms of displaced deforestation

4. COMPANIES AND CONSUMERS SHOULD:

• Obtain proof that wood products sourced from Vietnam are not derived from logs imported from Laos

Interviews are available on request: please contact Julian Newman at juliannewman@eia-international.org or telephone +44 (0)7966 171191 / 020 7354 7960, or Faith Doherty at faithdoherty@eia-international.org.

Copies of the full Crossroads report, stills and footage are available on request from EIA Press Officer Paul Newman at paulnewman@eia-international.org or phone 020 7354 7960.

EDITORS’ NOTES

1. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) is a UK-based Non Governmental Organisation and charitable trust (registered charity number 1040615) that investigates and campaigns against a wide range of environmental crimes, including illegal wildlife trade, illegal logging, hazardous waste, and trade in climate and ozone-altering chemicals.

2. Read more about EIA’s 2008 Vietnam investigation and download the resulting report Borderlines: Vietnam’s Booming Furniture Industry and Timber Smuggling in the Mekong Region here http://www.eia-international.org/cgi/reports/reports.cgi?t=template&a=160

Environmental Investigation Agency
62-63 Upper Street
London N1 0NY
UK
www.eia-international.org
Tel: +44 207 354 7960
Fax: +44 207 354 7961

ends

July 28, 2011

Environmental group says illegal log trafficking to Vietnam destroying rich forests of Laos


Crossroads from EIA on Vimeo.

View Original Source:  http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia-pacific/environmental-group-says-illegal-log-trafficking-to-vietnam-destroying-rich-forests-of-laos/2011/07/28/gIQANeLUeI_story.html

By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, July 28, 5:21 AM

 

BANGKOK — Despite an export ban, Vietnamese companies are smuggling logs from the once rich forests of Laos to feed a billion-dollar wood industry that turns timber into furniture for export to the Europe and the United States, an environmental group said Thursday.

The London-based Environmental Investigation Agency alleged that the Vietnamese military was heavily involved in bribing Lao officials and then trafficking the timber on a massive scale to wood processing factories in neighboring Vietnam. This was denied by the government and military.

Laos, with some of the last intact tropical forests in the region, in 1999 slapped a ban on the export of raw timber and says it is expanding its forest cover. But there are widespread reports of rampant logging, often associated with the country’s mushrooming dam projects and agricultural plantations.“Vietnam is almost annexing areas of Laos to feed its own industries. The only winners in Laos are corrupt government officials and well-connected businessmen,” Julian Newman, an EIA staffer, said at a news conference. The group focuses on environmental crime worldwide.Vietnamese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga denied the allegations.

“There is no smuggling of timber from Laos by the Vietnamese military,” she said. “Vietnam pays special attention to environmental protection, strictly forbids smuggling and illegal exploitation of timber.”

She said all “smuggling and illegal exploitation of timber will be strictly dealt with in accordance with Vietnamese law. The governments of Vietnam and Laos have been and will be coordinating to prevent all smuggling activities including timber smuggling.”

Hanoi has acknowledged in the past that its forestry industry is unsustainable and it is currently negotiating with the European Community to certify its exported wood products as having originated from legal sources.

Vietnam, which exports some $4 billion worth of wood products, banned domestic logging in 1997.

In an undercover operation in 2010 and 2011, the group said it tracked logs in Laos obtained by three Vietnamese enterprises as they made their way across the porous border to factories in Vietnam. It estimates the enterprises yearly smuggle some 8.8 million cubic feet (250,000 cubic meters) of wood worth some $80 million.

One of the three was identified as the Vietnamese Company of Economic Cooperation, or COECCO, an enterprise run by the Vietnamese army and headquartered in the city of Vinh. The company has been in the logging business in Laos for two decades, EIA said.

But officials for the company in Vietnam said it had a license from the Lao government to import logs, obtaining them in exchange for roads and irrigation projects it has built in the country.

The company announced on its website last month the opening of bids for more than 1.2 million cubic feet (34,000 cubic meters) of logged limber imported from Laos. The officials declined to give their names, citing policy.

The Lao government, as part of its 2020 forestry strategy, says that it will “strictly implement the export ban on logs and sawn timber.” The ban is covered in a 1999 law and a number of subsequent government orders.

Commenting on the military company’s imports, Newman said it may have engineered a “one-off deal” because of its close ties with powerful Lao officials.

International aid agencies in Laos frequently complain that provincial power brokers often make their own business deals with foreign companies, sometimes in contravention to central government laws and regulations.

Video shot by EIA showed trucks hauling piles of logs from Laos into Vietnam and featured both Lao and Vietnamese businessmen talking about bribing Lao government officials to allow the illegal exports. EIA says its investigators posed as potential buyers.

Laos’ export ban is also routinely flouted by companies supplying the wood industries of neighboring Thailand and China, EIA said.

EIA first exposed the illegal cross-border trade in 2008 and said that little has changed on the ground since, although the Vietnamese government is moving toward some kind of control.

“By the time the deals (with EU and others) are signed, there won’t be any forests left in Laos. Vietnam needs to get its act together and move quickly,” Newman said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

 
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