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Environmental Group Wants Moratorium on Indonesia's Forest Destruction - 2004-03-01

The international environmental group Greenpeace is expressing concern about what it calls the destruction of Indonesia's forests, some of the last remaining old growth forests in Asia. The group has called for a moratorium on logging in Indonesia, one of the world's largest timber exporters.

Environmental experts have warned that if loggers cut Indonesia's forests at the current rate, they will be beyond repair within 15 years. Greenpeace estimates that 3.8 million hectares of forest are destroyed each year.

"We are running out of time," says Togu Manurung, director of Forest Watch Indonesia, one of Greenpeace's partners in the fight to halt the logging. "If this keeps going on, we will facing the reality of total forest destruction in Indonesia in the near future."

The problem lies in the nature of the timber industry in Indonesia. Even the government estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of the logging is illegal, with corrupt timber barons paying off the authorities who are supposed to enforce the law.

Some of the hardest hit areas are those which are supposed to be best protected: the country's national forests.

Much of the timber is smuggled to surrounding countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam where it is then processed for sale in the west.

Greenpeace has called for a moratorium on all logging in Indonesia until a reliable system can be put in place to track timber to ensure that it comes from a legal source. Greenpeace has also promised to identify western companies that are buying Indonesian timber without ensuring that it has not been taken illegally.

Indonesia's forests are home to a wide range of flora and fauna, including the orangutan and the Sumatran rhinoceros. Logging has also had an impact on human inhabitants. Last November, more than 130 people were killed when their village on the edge of a national park was washed away in a flash flood believed to have been caused by the clear cutting of trees.