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Chinese Companies Profit From Illegally Destroying Burma's Forests


International environmental organizations say China's appetite for wood is fuelling illegal logging that is destroying Burma's forests. The Chinese government has sought to play down the extent of illegal logging by Chinese companies, but outside experts say the trade is growing.

Chinese workers in southwest China's Yunnan Province saw tall stacks of thick trees into planks at a lumber camp near the Burmese border.

International environmental organizations say more than 95 percent of these logs are imported illegally by Chinese companies colluding with officials on both sides of the border.

Susanne Kempel works for the British organization Global Witness, which reports on environmental degradation. She says logging is a major source of foreign revenue for Burma's military government but local people see no benefits from the booming trade.

"Well, you have, according to our information, a log truck crossing the Burma border into China every seven minutes every hour of every day every year," said Ms. Kempel. "This amounts to more than one million cubic meters of timber crossing illegally into China, and it's not just illegal, it's also highly unsustainable."

Kempel says Chinese logging operations have moved further into the Burmese interior because a quarter of the forest cover near the border is already gone.

Unregulated logging is illegal in Burma and China bars imports of illegally cut timber.

The Chinese government has played down the extent to which Chinese companies are responsible.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang says only a handful of Chinese companies are involved.

"Some Chinese companies have logging operations in Burma," he said. "But most of the businesses are following the contracts between the companies of the two countries and most of the business conforms to the laws and regulations in that area."

There is growing concern that over-logging in the jungles of Southeast Asia is causing severe environmental and social problems. When hillsides are stripped of trees, soil erosion, landslides and floods become more common, and the destruction of forests destroys wildlife habitats. In addition, traditional communities that depend on forests for their livelihoods often are forced out of their homes.

International environmental organizations have urged China and Burma to enforce laws forbidding illegal logging. They are also urging other countries to ban imports of Chinese wood products that might be made from illegally cut trees.