Jakarta demands Malaysia block illegal loggers
Last Updated: 10 April 2008
Indonesia has lost 72 per cent of its forests, despite a crackdown on the flow of timber within Indonesia. [Reuters]
Indonesia’s forestry minister, MS Kaban, has accused Malaysian companies of buying illegal timber to fuel the booming furniture industry.
In an interview with Radio Australia’s Connect Asia program, the minister says smuggled timber from Indonesia is also exported to China, Vietnam and other Asian countries through Malaysia.
As Enny Sobana reports, World Research Institute data shows Indonesia has lost 72 per cent of its forests, and some estimates place illegal logging as costing the Indonesian government more than $US3.2 billion a year.
Now, Indonesia’s forestry minister, MS Kaban, is calling on the Malaysian government to set harsh sentences on businessmen buying timber illegally from Indonesia.
“With documents obtained by the Indonesian police there is enough evidence to show the delivery of illegal timber from Indonesia to a company in the Malaysian state of Sarawak,” he said.
“Therefore we are sending a protest note to the Malaysian government through the department of foreign affairs.”
Mr Kaban describes forestry crime in Indonesia, notably in Kalimantan and Sumatra, as well organized and like a mafia network, involving elements at the highest local level.
In March, the Indonesian National Police intercepted 19 boats carrying 12,000 cubic metres of timber at Pawan River, in Ketapang, east Kalimantan, suspected of being smuggled to Malaysia.
The forestry minister is calling for closer cooperation between the Customs Office, Police and Forestry to stamp out timber smuggling from Indonesia.
“There needs to be sanctions on countries taking illegal timber,” he said.
“As long as the market’s there, timber theft will always exist.”
The latest arrests have been welcomed as a daring, move, with the environmental group WALHI Indonesia saying up until now, the destruction of a large part of Indonesia’s forests is the result of slack law enforcement.
WALHI says the Indonesian forestry department talks more about sanction than action, Rully Syumanda, a forest campaign officer with the group, says consequently illegal logging is out of control.
“More than 10 million metre cubics timber goes to Malaysia illegally every year so far, based on the data on the year 2006,”he said.
“The problem also because the weakness of Indonesian government itself to prevent or to protect everything goes to Malaysia by land or by sea.”
Mr Syumanda says the flow of illegal timber from Kalimantan or Sumatra to other parts of Indonesia has declined in the past few years, amid a government crackdown on the area.
But he says that’s only temporary, and corruption is still allowing loggers to move more timber in to Malaysia.
“Any particular area, the police or the minister involved in this muzzling practice, for example in Saba or in West Kalimantan the illegal logger bribe the military so that they can move to Malaysia,” he said.
Mr Kaban says the Indonesian government is taking a tough stance against those smuggling within Indonesia, but the Malaysian government needs to to do more to stop the flow of illegal timber into its country.
“The market in Malaysia is so close to the Indonesian border, and usually the boats say they’re trading timber locally when leaving, but then in the middle of the sea they change course towards Malaysia…and then they’re taken care of by securities, by Malaysian companies, given some sort of protection,” he said.
“In this current operation, all involved will be investigated, including the port master who gives the permission for the boats to sail.”
A West Kalimantan newspaper reports Malaysia’s director of forestry for the Malaysian state of Sarawak, Datok Lan Talif Saleh, as saying because the violation occurs in Indonesia, his country has no legal right to interfere, and will leave the handling of illegal loggers fully to Indonesia.
He says Malaysia is committed to stamping out illegal logging, when it happens in Malaysia.
But Mr Kaban is calling for increased international support in the fight against illegal logging, urging Malaysia and others to not accept illegal timber or products they know have been made from Indonesia’s forests.
“You can ask them which of their forests are being logged, how can they export timber?” he said.
“Malaysia should be introspective and not just protect itself with the formal legalities performed by its institutions, stamping any documents that enters the country.”
This feature is based on a story by Enny Sobana, originally broadcast on the Connect Asia program on April 9, 2008.