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MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, Feb. 5) - Papua New Guinea loggers say a campaign against the country's timber industry will hurt the nation's landowners.

The international environmental group, Greenpeace, is urging Australia and New Zealand to crack down on timber imports from PNG, saying much of the timber has been logged illegally.

A spokesman for PNG's Forests Industry Association, Dick McCarthy, denies illegal logging is taking place.

He says the impact of the Greenpeace campaign will be to reduce the value of timber resources, affecting grass roots landowners.

"You cannot take anything out of Papua New Guinea, especially processed wood products or export of logs, without having clearance and all the export permits and all the ongoing regulations," Mr McCarthy said. "If there was some illegal activity, if there is a company or someone doing something illegally, then they should suffer the due process of law. But this is accusing all the timber industry in PNG of being illegal, which is being incorrect."

Australia's forestry minister, Ian Macdonald, has rejected Greenpeace's call for intervention, saying it is up to PNG to stop illegal logging.

"The easy way to resolve the situation is to not allow any imports into Australia because Australia can be self-sufficient," Mr Macdonald said. "If Australia were self-sufficient in forests and wood products we wouldn't need to take the risk of importing product which may be the result of illegal logging in PNG."

Meanwhile, a former minister of the Papua New Guinea government says he was sacked because he stood up against an entrenched "network" of forestry supporters.

Sasa Zibe lost his job as environment minister last year after a dispute with Prime Minister Michael Somare over the future of the head of the Environment Department.

Mr Zibe says he wanted to suspend the bureaucrat for failing to enforce environmental law, but was overruled.

He says he was sacked for standing up for his principles by pushing for reform, and claims he was up against "a network".

"Not only within the department itself, but a network within the industry, and a network within the government circles, even within the ministers too," he said.

February 6, 2004

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