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Malaysian- licensed equipment found

By John Pangkatana PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Aug. 18, 2010) – In Papua New Guinea (PNG), government officers swooped on an illegal logging operation in a remote area in Wanigela near the Oro-Milne Bay border.

Also discovered in the raid were vehicles and numerous earthmoving equipment with Malaysian number plates, allegedly originating from Sarawak in Indonesia.

Intelligence reports indicate that more barges with more equipment, vehicles and illegal Chinese nationals are heading that way.

[PIR editor’s note: The World Bank estimates that up to 70 percent of logging in Papua New Guinea is illegal. Greenpeace believes the figure is as high as 90 percent due to the fact that many timber licenses are obtained without the proper prior and informed consent of landowners."]

Government officers speaking by satellite phone yesterday said they responded to calls from a non-government organization operating in the area and helpless landowners who are being suppressed by other locals acting as "hired thugs". The Government officers say they discovered the illegal activity involving local people and Asians.

The Asians believed to be of Chinese/Malaysian origin were originally operating in the area conducting a cashew nut planting activity on what is believed to be State land.

This is in addition to doing selected logging on customary-owned land.

Government officers working on reports conducted a joint operation last week and discovered more than what they had expected.

The activity has been upgraded to a full-scale logging operation.

Two companies are operating in the area, but are allegedly not registered with the Papua New Guinea Investment Promotion Authority (IPA).

"This logging operation is illegal without proper consultation with the customary landowners using ILG (Incorporated Landowner Group) fraudulent papers," a government officer said.

He said the logging camp is in an isolated area about two hours by motorized dinghy from the Tufi district township.

He said: "There is virtually no communication which practically leaves the customary landowners at their mercy."

The officer said that this had gone further than expected and the customary landowners were helpless to do anything. Every time they complain they are threatened to keep quiet.

He said Popondetta police were called in and rounded up six Chinese nationals without any legal documents.

"Since then we found out that four remained on the site while two flew out on a commercial flight with a policeman from Popondetta to confirm verification of their papers," he said.

He identified the two men, one as the alleged ring leader.

"There has been no follow up action and the two have disappeared into thin air," he said.

He said on July 4 police allegedly from a mobile squad unit in Port Moresby flew in on a chartered Tropic Air light aircraft.

They allegedly threatened the locals, saying they were following orders from the Government.

The government officer said they confirmed that there were no such orders from the Government.

"They even confiscated a video camera belonging to an environmentalist group called Oicad," he said.

He said that they did not make any arrests but did indicate that there were "bigger fish to fry" in what is believed to be only the tip of the logging iceberg.

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