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UN Study Links Forest Management, Armed Conflict

A new United Nations report released Thursday in Rome says better management of the world's forests is crucial to reducing conflict and avoiding war. The report takes a look at why there is so much violence in forested regions and what can be done about the problems.

The new U.N. reports focuses on the problem of violence linked to forested regions around the world. Many of these areas are populated by poor and isolated populations who are ignored or mistreated and easily convinced to take up arms or resort to violence to obtain what they want.

David Kaimowitz is the author of the study titled "Forests and War, Forests and Peace" and director general of the Center for International Forestry Research, based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

"The report first of all says that there is a very, very large problem of violent conflict in forested regions around the tropical world," Mr. Kaimowitz says. "About 25 countries which together have about 40 percent of all of the tropical forests in the world have armed conflicts going on in their forested regions now or that have recently gone on and they're in a post-conflict situation."

The report was presented at a meeting Thursday of the world's forestry directors held at the Rome-based United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

Mr. Kaimowitz says governments must address the relationship between wars and forests. He says there are a variety of reasons people in forested regions take up arms.

The people living in many of these areas, he says, have been historically neglected marginalized, mistreated. They are often ethnic groups that have been discriminated against.

Another reason for conflict, he says, is that these are areas with significant resources including timber, minerals, petroleum and land. These cannot only become a source of tension but also be used to finance the purchase of arms.

There is also, Mr. Kaimowitz adds, the simple fact that forests can provide refuge, funds and food for fighters.

"It's easy for armed groups to hide in the forest, it's very difficult for government troops to find them there and they can sell often some of these resources that exist in the forest, the timber, the diamonds… they can sell them and use those to buy guns," Mr. Kaimowitz says.

Mr. Kaimowitz says to prevent violence in forested areas, governments should focus on recognizing the rights of local people over the resources. Ethnic groups should be brought into the political system allowing their rights to be recognized and providing them with basic services.

As wars come to an end in countries like Liberia, Sudan and Congo, Mr. Kaimowitz says it's very important for the international community to invest heavily in better forest management to both avoid a recurrence of violence and to protect the forest itself.