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Vietnamese military illegally plundering Laos’ forests

 Factory in Vietnam making outdoor furniture. © Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).
Factory in Vietnam making outdoor furniture. © Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).

Dwindling forests in the Asian nation of Laos are being illegally destroyed and traded by Vietnamese companies with the Vietnamese army as one of the biggest players in this multi-million dollar smuggling operation, according to an investigation by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA). EIA agents went undercover as timber purchasers to discover a long trail of corruption and poor enforcement from the destruction of Laos forests to furniture factories in Vietnam to stores in the USA and Europe. Even a ban on exporting raw timber out of Laos has done little to stop the plunder of the nation’s forests for outside gain.

“EIA first exposed the illicit log trade between Laos and Vietnam in 2008, and our latest investigations reveal that sadly nothing has changed,” EIA Head of Forest Campaign Faith Doherty said in a press release.

One of the largest logging operators in the investigation was the Vietnamese Company of Economic Cooperation (COECCO). However, it was discovered that this company, which specialized in logging near dam construction sites, was owned by the Vietnamese Military Zone 4. COECCO has been logging forests with impunity for two decades, according to the EIA.

The EIA report estimates that around 500,000 cubic meters of logs make their way from Laos to Vietnam annually with logs coming from “some of the last
intact tropical forests in the Mekong region.” Local people (70 percent of Lao people live in rural areas) are suffering the loss of the forest resources on which they depend, while, according to the EIA, the only beneficiaries in Laos of this underground trade are corrupt officials and criminal business people.

“The governments of Vietnam and Laos urgently need to work together to stem the flow of logs and curb the over-exploitation of Laos’ precious forests before it’s too late, and the Vietnamese military must be excluded from logging operations in Laos,” says Doherty. “With a new Timber Regulation coming into force within European markets in 2013, both Vietnam and Laos have a lot at stake and urgently need to work with the European Union.”

Already in the US, the Lacey Act makes it a federal offense to sell wood that was sourced illegally in its country of origin.

EIA recommends that the Lao government enforce its export ban on raw logs and make its forestry quotas transparent, while Vietnam should block log imports from and not allow its military to log in Laos. Consumers should be wary when purchasing Vietnamese furniture to make certain the wood didn’t come from Laos forests.

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