9 suspects in Vietnam illegal logging case turn themselves in

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Nine of 11 people suspected of felling precious timber worth hundreds of billions of dong in the central province of Quang Binh's national park have surrendered to the local police.

The suspects showed up on Thursday and Friday in response to the police's summons, more than one month after three sua (Dalbergia tonkinensis prain) trees were found illegally logged in the Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park.

Two others are still absconding.

Police in Phuc Trach Commune said initial information is that the suspects found and logged the trees at the end of March. Then, they divided the timber into 12 parts, of which Nguyen Van Minh received two as a payment for his discovery, police said, adding that each part was estimated to be worth some VND10 billion (US$480,000).

While they hid part of their loot in the park's forest, they left some six tons of timber in total to sell to three men for VND45 billion ($2.15 million), including security and transportation fees.

The timber was taken out of the forest successfully at the end of April, police said

Later, one of the suspects, Nguyen Van Thong, ordered people to bring more timber out of the forest, and on their way they agreed to sell it to another group of traders for VND9 billion ($431,800).

However, on May 5, the traders' transportation crew of 25 people was robbed by more than 100 locals as they were transporting the timber, police said. The traders then mobilized some 70 people to hunt and take back part of the stolen timber.

Five people believed to be involved in the robbery have been arrested for further investigations, police said.

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It is not known if any timber is left hidden in the park.

Earlier, on May 31, local police seized 1.4 tons of sua timber from two trucks. These are alleged to have come from the felled trees, bringing the amount of sua timber that police have confiscated since the case was exposed in April to over 2.7 tons, a report on VTC news website said Friday.

Local authorities discovered the case when hundreds of locals rushed to the park following rumors that some people had found sua trees worth hundreds of billions of dong.

The Vietnamese government banned the use of sua wood for commercial purposes in 2007.

But high demand for the wood for decorative and medicinal purposes in China sustains the illegal logging of and trade in the tree.

The timber is found mostly in Vietnam and China, with India and Africa also having some trees.

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