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Monday, 29 October, 2001, 10:18 GMT
Illegal logging spreads in Russia
Timber logged illegally in Cambodia, Global Witness
Illegal logging is destroying a valuable resource
By Francis Markus in the Pacific port of Vladivostok

Environmental activists in the Russian Far East are becoming increasingly concerned about the extent of illegal logging in the region.

They say the rich timber resources of the ancient forests are being mercilessly plundered despite Russia's strict laws on logging.

Environmentalists blame corruption by local officials and lack of funds to enforce controls on timber shipments.

The environmentalists could do absolutely nothing about the consignment of illegally logged timber being shunted out before their very eyes

Much of the wood is being exported by rail to neighbouring China.

Video check

Just outside a small station on the main line, some 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Vladivostok, a long train of goods wagons without a locomotive waits in a siding.

The cars are piled high with logs lashed tightly in place. Two young Russian environmentalists prowl around with a video camera.

They are excited at what they say is crystal clear evidence of illegal logging.

Six of the wagons are loaded with Korean pine, a type of tree they say Russia's forestry laws strictly prohibit from being cut down.

The activists say the standard three-metre lengths into which the trees are chopped suggest that they are bound for export across the nearby Chinese border.

But trying to pin things down any further is the hard part. At one of the several Chinese-operated sawmills in the town, a company official insists his firm is not exporting the protected Korean pine.

Official denials

He says all its timber shipments are legal and properly documented. When the activists try to challenge the local trade office over the consignment, an indignant official tells them it is none of their business.

The town's governor, forewarned of the environmentalists' visit, together with a foreign journalist, is refusing to meet them.

Vladistock railway station, BBC
A shipment was discovered at a railway station
Residents say he has even ordered the local police officer to keep an eye on them. He apparently knew they were coming after friends of his saw the group interviewing people in a transport cafe on the way from Vladivostok.

That was bad news for the environmentalists - that and the fact that they could do absolutely nothing about the consignment of illegally logged timber being shunted out before their very eyes.

The only glimmer of good news was that while they had gloomily predicted that the women serving in the transport cafe would know a little and care less about illegal logging, they proved to be both informed and agitated about it.

One of them said heatedly that even though Russia's timber resources were vast, if they continued to be sold off at the present rate, there would be nothing left for her grandchildren.

See also:

08 Jun 01 | Asia-Pacific
Cambodia rejects logging report
21 Sep 00 | Europe
Russia's nuclear dangers
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