KNU overrules local officials, halts logging after SPDC general harvests 2,500 tons

Wed 28 Jan 2009, IMNA
District level authorities from the Karen National Union (KNU) have ordered Htay Company, owned by Major General Hla Htay Win, to halt logging in the Makate Forest near Three Pagodas Pass. The halt order overrules local officials and military officers, who had permitted Htay Company to harvest over 2,500 tons of ironwood.

The 50,000 acre Makate Forest, one of the largest remaining large-timber forests in Burma’s southeastern border area, stands inside KNU Dooplaya District. The KNU and Brigade 6 of its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), have strictly controlled the forest with local villagers reporting that they are not allowed to log or even hunt within its reaches.

At the advent of the 2008 rainy season, however, Htay Company purchased logging rights from officials from Kyainnseikyi township administrative offices, the Dooplaya District Forestry Department and Battalion No. 17 of Brigade 6. The company began logging after the rains subsided in November, harvesting over 2,500 tons of timber in just two months.

The logging distressed local villagers, who felt that a forest they had been watching over for generations was being destroyed. In December, 5 representatives from 20 villages in the area drafted a complaint letter to the Dooplaya District Committee, which overseas the area.

According to Saw Liston, Dooplaya District Secretary, the villagers timed their letter to arrive on December 29th, immediately before a regularly scheduled forestry meeting involving district and township level officials. “Local villagers wrote a letter because they have protected this forest since before their grandmothers and grandfathers were alive,” Saw Liston told IMNA. “They said ‘the KNU is trading our heritage for money from the Htay company. Later, will the KNU also eat our rice?’”

Before receiving the letter, district level KNU authorities had not been aware of the logging by Htay Company, Saw Liston said, and in the subsequent meeting the Dooplaya District Committee ordered the logging to be halted. “Htay Company had an agreement with lower level district officials, but of this we did not know. When the villagers reported to us, we found out and then we discussed it in our meeting.”

Though the logging has halted, the Htay Company is being permitted to remove trees that have already been cut. “As our lower officers already made an agreement with the Htay Company, we will allow them to remove the trees they already cut,” Saw Liston told IMNA. “But we will not give them permission to cut any more trees. They have until May to remove their trees. This information has been informed to the Htay Company.”

In spite of the premature end to the timber project, Htay Company stands to make significant income. According to Htay Company sources, the large trees – each at least 15 feet in circumference and weighing 2 to 3 tons – fetch 30,000 baht per ton. Timber from the Makate forest, however, is likely destined to fetch an even higher price. According to a truck driver who is transporting timber for Htay Company, the trees are being transported to Abit village in Mudon Township, Mon State, where it is transferred and continues on for export from Rangoon.

According to an IMNA source in the Three Pagodas Pass Special Branch Police, Htay Company is owned by Major General Hla Htay Win, the former Rangoon Commander who was recently named Chief of Military Training.

With 10,000 acres and 2,500 tons of timber harvested – one fifth of the Makate forestland – local villagers left with the short end of the stick described the cultural and environmental impacts of the logging. “When the Htay Company cuts even one ironwood tree, it is very big and it destroys all the small trees around when it falls,” said one area resident. “And they [Htay loggers] leave all the branches from the trees they cut. They just leave the branches and there will fires in the hot season.”

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