12 jailed for illegally logging rare trees in northern Vietnam

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A court in the northern province of Quang Binh Wednesday handed down jail terms to 12 people for illegally logging rare trees from a national park.

The defendants were also ordered to pay over VND57 billion (US$2.67 million) in compensation by the Bo Trach District's People's Court.

According to the prosecution, the lost trees were estimated to be worth nearly VND71 billion ($3.33 million), and the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park incurred additional damages of over VND51 million ($2,395).

It said the defendants entered a restricted area of the park on March 20 last year and found three big sua trees (Dalbergia tonkinensis).

The logging produced 129 baskets of timber each weighing 50-70 kilograms. The men buried the baskets and sought buyers.

Prosecutors said they sold nine baskets weighing 400 kilograms in the park and earned VND1.3 billion ($61,000).

The men then shared the rest of timber among themselves and hired locals to transport them out of the forest, but the porters were attacked by robbers or caught by authorities on their way.

Local authorities confiscated ten baskets of the precious timber.

The judges sent two men to 30 months in prison, seven men to 27 months, and the rest to 24 months.

They were all found guilty of "violating regulations on exploiting and protecting forests."

At the hearing, the judges also said related agencies need to consider strict punishments against officials in charge of managing the park for being lax in their duties and allowing the men to enter the park and cut the trees.

In March, Party authorities in Quang Binh rebuked Luu Minh Thanh, director of the park, and dismissed deputy director Nguyen Van Huyen from the committees of the Bo Trach District and the park's Party unit

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Authorities said Thanh failed to handle the case properly and quickly after it was detected, causing an outcry that affected public security. 

Meanwhile, Huyen had led an inspection team into the park on April 24 and spotted the timber as well as the tools used for logging them. But he did not do anything about the discovery, and ordered the team to withdraw.

A study released last May by UK-based conservation group Flora and Fauna International said law enforcement was absent at the UNESCO-recognized park, with illegal logging and transportation of timber being rampant and done openly.

Vietnam banned the commercial use of sua wood, found mostly in Vietnam and China, in 2007.

But huge demand for the wood for decorative and medicinal purposes in China sustains the illegal logging and trade, experts say.

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