Myanmar government troops have arrested eleven Chinese nationals for alleged involvement in illegal logging in restive Kachin State.

In 2015, Myanmar had given life sentences to 135 Chinese nationals for illegal logging in Kachin, but the government released them under a presidential pardon shortly after China lodged a diplomatic protest.

The army-run Myawaddy newspaper reported Monday that the suspects were arrested along with several machines and vehicles during area clearance operations Saturday in the mountainous area of Bamaw near the border with China.

“The 11 foreigners and 99 machinery vehicles were transferred to the police station in the area where a legal process was put into action,” it said.

Myanmar has lost more than a quarter of its forests — among the most biodiversity-rich on earth and a target for loggers, often working illegally — since the late 1980s.

In a bid to preserve its forests, Myanmar had imposed a one-year logging ban countrywide shortly after the civilian government led by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi took office in March last year.

In 2014, Myanmar had also banned the export of raw timber logs to slow deforestation and boost its own production.

Despite the ban, illegal logging has thrived in Myanmar’s eastern and northeastern areas, where environmental conservation groups say valuable teak and rosewood are smuggled over the border to China — Myanmar’s biggest investor and trading partner.

According to Ministry of Environmental Conservation and Forestry figures, Myanmar seized hardwood and various logs weighing a total of 41,825 tons this fiscal year starting April 1, 2016.

Myo Min, Forestry Department director, told Anadolu Agency on Monday that the fight against illegal logging has gained momentum, citing the largest seizure of illegal logs this year compared to previous years.

“Due to the ban and crackdown by government, we seized a record amount of illegal logs this year,” he said.

He, however, added that illegal logging continues to thrive in border areas, mostly in ethnic rebel-controlled areas of eastern Shan State and Kachin along the Myanmar-China border.

China — described by environmental watchdog groups as the world’s biggest importer of illegal timber — has consistently denied its alleged role in the destruction of Myanmar’s forests.

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