Tougher penalties for forest crime in Myanmar

In a bid to protect the country’s fast-dwindling forests last September the Myanmar parliament enacted a tougher forest law that threatens violators with up to 15 years in prison. Under the law forest officials can also be punished for accepting bribes or for being involved in the extraction, transfer or possession of illegally harvested logs or products manufactured from such logs.

Also, fines for minor offences have been raised to K30 million (US$20,000) and trespassers living in forests must vacate their premises within one month of being served notice, according to U Zaw Min, Deputy Director General of the Forest Department.

According to the Forest Department, more than 143,000 tons of illegal hardwoods have been seized since the current administration took office three years ago.

Over the same period, it said, more than 20,000 alleged timber traffickers were arrested and 9,460 pieces of machinery and 1,163 chainsaws were seized.

In a press release the Forest Department said that most of the seizures were made possible by its community-based system to monitor illegal logging and alert authorities.

The Myanmar Forest Department auctions about 80 per cent of the timber it seizes. Barber Cho, Secretary of Myanmar Forest Certification Committee, said that the export of products manufactured from the seized timber is not allowed under existing Forest Department regulations and this ban is included in the framework of the Myanmar Timber Legality Assurance System.