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Liberia Tries to Remove Timber Sanctions - 2003-10-29

Liberia's power sharing government and the country's timber industry are trying to get international sanctions on Liberian timber lifted, now that the four-year civil war has ended. Lifting the sanctions would bring revenue to the new government.

Both Liberia's former government and the rebels who took control of the country's timberland were accused of using timber revenues to finance the civil war.

But now that the war is over, French timber executive Jean Jacques Landrot says it is time to get the sanctions lifted.

Mr. Landrot said his company has approached the United Nations about ending the sanctions, which he says would generate much-needed tax revenue for Liberia's new government. The Security Council imposed the sanctions in May, after rebels took control of forested land in northwest and southeast Liberia.

Nearly half of Liberia is forested land, and estimates are that the logging industry can generate up to 65 percent of the country's export revenues.

Mr. Landrot, who also heads an association of businesses in the tropical timber industry, says he supports efforts to make sure logging profits are no longer diverted to finance wars.

But a researcher with the conservation group Fauna and Flora International, Jamison Suter, says the sanctions should remain, at least for a while. He warns that unless proper controls are put in place, the resumption of logging in Liberia could lead to abuse and instability.

"Sanctions allow a bit of breathing space in which to take stock of the forest sector in Liberia to review how we can reform the way logging is done and logging is managed, how can we review the forests of Liberia and decide which ones should be set aside for conservation, and which ones for logging or for other uses because to date logging has really dominated forest management decisions," said Jamison Suter.

The new head of Liberia's Forestry Development Authority, former rebel leader Eugene Wilson, has given assurances he will try to manage Liberia's forests responsibly.

"No resource will be in any way to fuel any other activities other than generating resources for the country," he said. "The issue is we need to become functional again and a major concern is that it must be done the right way and we want to do it the right way."

But Mr. Wilson, who has just taken office, is already being confronted with reports that despite the sanctions, his rebel group, known as MODEL, has continued to send timber across the Cavally River into Ivory Coast for export to southern Europe.

The new government does not control all parts of Liberia. U.N. peacekeepers have started deploying, but many rebels and militia fighters remain armed, leaving the potential for illicit timber trading, and even renewed fighting.