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Wednesday, 22 May, 2002, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Malaysia 'laundering rainforest logs'
orang utan
Indonesia's great apes are losing their habitat

Environmental campaigners in Malaysia are accusing the government of involvement in the criminal destruction of the endangered forests of Indonesia.

Their concerns come as the United Nations publishes its Global Environment Outlook report, in which it warns that 15% of the earth's land cover has now been degraded by human activity - and nearly a third of that is due to deforestation.

Indonesian rainforests
Indonesia has about 10% of the world's remaining tropical forests - second only to Brazil
Forest cover fell from 162m ha (400,300,000 acres) in 1950 to 98m ha (242,200,000 acres) in 2000
Nearly 2m ha (4,942,000 acres) are now being destroyed every year
Source: World Resources Institute, Global Forest Watch, Forest Watch Indonesia

An investigation by the BBC has revealed that Malaysia is importing timber which has been felled illegally in nearby Indonesia, and then disguising its origin by using it for the manufacture of garden furniture or other products which are labelled as of Malaysian origin.

It means that people who buy the products cannot be sure that the wood used to make them was legally felled - undermining efforts by Western governments to clamp down on illegal logging before all Indonesia's forests are destroyed.

The Indonesian Government is trying to control the destruction of the rainforests, but senior sources told the BBC that corruption is so widespread that they need international help.

Illegal logging in Indonesia
The Indonesian Government says corruption is widespread
They have signed a unique deal with the British Government under which the UK will move to ban imports of illegal Indonesian logs into Europe.

British international development minister Hilary Benn says that Britain is committed: "Because we are now quite late in the process in terms of deforestation there is, I think, a greater international willingness to do something.

"Clearly we need to make progress as quickly as possible."

But government sources in Indonesia have told the BBC that the deal with Britain is already being fatally undermined by their neighbour Malaysia.

Officially Malaysia has agreed to support Indonesia's log ban, but in fact they are conspiring in the illegal trade.

Garden furniture

Just a few miles south of Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur there is a brand new port where boats with Indonesian flags are unloading the banned round logs.

Forest is cleared in Sumatra
And stacking them on the dockside where they will be turned into Malaysian doors or Malaysian garden furniture.

A junior manager a the Kuala Lumpur-based company Harvest, admitted that some of the timber coming in was from Indonesia and it was being stamped by the state government as an official import.

Julian Newman from the The Environmental Investigation Agency, said: "This is one of the many places where Indonesian timber is coming into Malaysia and being laundered and sold onto the international market.

The EIA is doubly angry that while the Malaysian Government condemns the trade officially, it has supplied a customs post there so they can raise money on it.

The port company and the Malaysian Government declined to be interviewed by the BBC, but one Malaysian tradespokesman said off the record that if they did not process the illegal logs, someone else would.

The Indonesians needed to do more to stop the logs being cut in the first place.

This attitude outrages Indonesian forest campaigners such as Telapak.

Spokesman Hapsoro said: "Malaysia is stealing our natural resources and claim it as their own. This is unbelievable to me because Malaysia is like our brother. It's a neighbouring country."

See also:

22 May 02 | Science/Nature
24 Aug 99 | Science/Nature
03 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
20 May 99 | Asia-Pacific
20 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
03 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
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