Myanmar / Burma: Citizen’s win reprieve for last big tree forest on Border SE border

Authorities from the Karen National Union (KNU) have ordered Htay
Company, owned by Major General Hla Htay Win, to halt logging in the
Makate Forest near Three Pagodas Pass. The halt order overrules local
officials and military officers, who had permitted Htay Company to
harvest over 2,500 tons of ironwood. The 50,000 acre Makate Forest,
one of the largest remaining large-timber forests in Burma’s
southeastern border area, stands inside KNU Dooplaya District.

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The KNU and Brigade 6 of its armed wing, the Karen National Liberation
Army (KNLA), have strictly controlled the forest with local villagers
reporting that they are not allowed to log or even hunt within its
reaches. At the advent of the 2008 rainy season, however, Htay Company
purchased logging rights from officials from Kyainnseikyi township
administrative offices, the Dooplaya District Forestry Department and
Battalion No. 17 of Brigade 6. The company began logging after the
rains subsided in November, harvesting over 2,500 tons of timber in
just two months. The logging distressed local villagers, who felt that
a forest they had been watching over for generations was being
destroyed. In December, 5 representatives from 20 villages in the area
drafted a complaint letter to the Dooplaya District Committee, which
overseas the area.”Local villagers wrote a letter because they have
protected this forest since before their grandmothers and grandfathers
were alive,” Saw Liston told IMNA.

“They said ‘the KNU is trading our
heritage for money from the Htay company. Later, will the KNU also eat
our rice?'” Before receiving the letter, district level KNU
authorities had not been aware of the logging by Htay Company, Saw
Liston said, and in the subsequent meeting the Dooplaya District
Committee ordered the logging to be halted. “Htay Company had an
agreement with lower level district officials, but of this we did not
know. When the villagers reported to us, we found out and then we
discussed it in our meeting.” Though the logging has halted, the Htay
Company is being permitted to remove trees that have already been cut.
“As our lower officers already made an agreement with the Htay
Company, we will allow them to remove the trees they already cut,” Saw
Liston told IMNA. “But we will not give them permission to cut any
more trees. They have until May to remove their trees. This
information has been informed to the Htay Company.” In spite of the
premature end to the timber project, Htay Company stands to make
significant income. According to Htay Company sources, the large trees
– each at least 15 feet in circumference and weighing 2 to 3 tons –
fetch 30,000 baht per ton.

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