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By Yehiura Hriehwazi

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Aug. 1) - Hundreds of teak trees have been felled in Papua New Guinea’s Northern province for export to Thailand and India, even though forestry officials say teak exports in log form is illegal.

Officials said teak can only be exported as sawn timber processed as 'flitches' measuring 150mm x 150 mm on the sides.

Two companies are involved in harvesting teak trees from woodlots. They are Junga Mei Logging, a locally-owned company of the Embi-Urio people, and Prominence Holdings Ltd, which is owned by a company called Santi Forestry Co Ltd based in Bangkok, Thailand.

Industry sources said landowner and community groups could cut 500 cubic meters of logs without any approvals, but teak logs and some other local species have to undergo some processing prior to export. They can be freely used in the domestic market.

One foreign company last month had a consignment of 14 containers impounded by custom officials in Lae because the teak logs in them had been declared as sawn timber.

This matter has been referred to the Customs Department in Port Moresby. But so far no action has been announced regarding the shipment, which is still held by Customs at the Lae wharf.

Junga Mei Logging and Prominence do not own saw-milling facilities to turn their teak logs into flitches, according to the Oro provincial forestry office.

However both companies have Forest Industry Participant (FIP) licences as well as sale and purchase agreements with individual tree owners.

Visits by this newspaper to log-landing sites reveal that harvested trees are debarked into square-shaped logs to pass as flitch for export. Workers were using a chainsaw to turn 700 logs sitting on the bank of Girua River into what could pass forest inspections and customs officials as flitches.

However, a provincial forestry officer said teak could only be exported as flitches after being sawn into 150mm x 150 mm blocks and he could not explain how teak logs are being exported from other areas such as Kerevat and Lae.

A spokesman from Prominence said he believed flitches could be defined as square-shaped logs and that the company wanted to export its logs to Thailand.

The provincial forestry office has no record of the quantity of trees logged, scaled and prepared for exports - a requirement that is necessary for the authorities to ensure that proper royalties are paid to resources owners.

August 2, 2004

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