FILE - Seleka rebels are seen driving through Bangui, Central African Republic, Jan. 27, 2014.
FILE - Seleka rebels are seen driving through Bangui, Central African Republic, Jan. 27, 2014.

Anti-corruption group Global Witness says European timber imports from the Central African Republic (CAR) have helped fund violence in the country.  It also accuses French, Chinese and Lebanese timber companies of paying bribes to the Seleka rebels and other armed groups.

Published Wednesday, the new Global Witness report says that in 2013 alone, logging companies paid more than $3.7 million to Seleka rebels fighting in the CAR so they could continue their timber operations.  After the rebels were ousted from power in 2014, the companies paid hundreds of thousands more dollars to rival militia groups.

Global Witness cited three logging companies it says made many of the payoffs - Vicwood from China, SEFCA from Lebanon and French group IFB.

Global Witness campaign leader, Alexandra Pardal, said it should have been clear to the companies what they were getting involved in.

“By agreeing to pay those armed men, the logging companies became complicit in their crimes.  Let’s be clear about this.  These are crimes they became involved in…. they could have foreseen the money they paid would go to buy arms that would kill Central African people.  That is unacceptable and it is also illegal,” said Pardal.

French company Tropica-Bos was also cited in the report.  Global Witness says it is the CAR’s biggest timber trader, which reaped record profits in 2013, at the height of the CAR conflict.  The company’s office in Nice did not immediately respond to an interview request.

The report also faults the European Union, whose member states collectively amount to the top importers of CAR timber - despite EU regulations against the illegal timber trade.  

More broadly, Pardal said, Global Witness wants a moratorium on industrial logging operations in the CAR and for countries to crack down on illegal timber imports.

“In Central African Republic, thousands of indigenous communities and forest-dependent communities live in and off the rainforest.  So, obviously, industrial exploitation as we’ve seen in Central African Republic is undermining the livelihoods of those forest-dependent communities; it’s destroying the ecosystem; it’s being done illegally as well.  So clearly it’s not sustainable,” said Pardal.

This is not the first Global Witness investigation into the regional logging industry.  A June report accused European and U.S. companies of participating in an illegal and lucrative timber trade in the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Two years ago, the CAR and five other African countries, along with timber industry representatives, agreed to jointly combat the illegal trade of timber and logging in the Congo Basin.