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A low-ranking Burmese army officer has been caught carrying illegal timber in the town of Mohnyin, southern Kachin State.
Acting on a tip-off, a team including forestry officials and police officers took up positions on Sunday evening at a checkpoint into the town where they stopped a vehicle driven by Lance Corporal Aung Naing Soe.
A search of the vehicle uncovered 246 planks of teakwood, weighing a total of just over one tonne. Aung Naing Soe was arrested along with passenger Thin Thin Myat, who is alleged to be involved in trading illegal timber.
“Since Lance Corporal Aung Naing Soe is a Tatmadaw [military] personnel, he will be handed over to the army. But he is currently being detained in Hopin police station,” said chief of local police Htein Lin, adding that charges will be sought under Section 43 of Burma’s Forest Law.
Section 43 is concerned specifically with the case of teak, and provides for sentences of up to seven years for “the cutting and removal of timber from forest land or land at the disposal of the Government”.
According to UNODC, more than 44 percent of Burma remains covered in forest – some 29 million hectares. However, between 2010 and 2015, Burma suffered the third largest forest loss in the world, equivalent to an annual loss of 546,000 hectares. Since 1990, the country has lost 26 percent of its forested area, mostly due to massive logging concessions.
Bordering China in the northernmost region of the country, Kachin State is particularly vulnerable to illegal logging operations. According to official statistics, authorities seized 1939.86 tons of illegal wood in Kachin State in the fiscal year 2016-17.
A ban on the export of Burmese timber was put into effect on 1 April 2014. Then in 2016, a total ban on logging was enacted by the new Aung San Suu Kyi-led government in a bid to save Burma’s forests. However, it was only a temporary measure; the government lifted the ban in March 2017.