A case of foxes guarding the chicken coop

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Government officials and forest rangers in Vietnam get a 39 percent cut from illegal logging, a study has alleged.

Forest Trends, an international non-profit organization released the study titled "Illegal Logging in Vietnam: Lam Tac (Forest Hijackers) in Practice and Talk" by Thomas Sikora and To Xuan Phuc.

Following field trips on the "illegal timber road" from the northern province of Hoa Binh to Hanoi, the researchers said illegal loggers only got a 30 percent share of the logged timber. Traders and wholesalers received 31 percent, and local government officials and forest rangers the rest.

Thus, the public refrain to give more powers to forest management officials each time illegal logging was reported would not solve the problem, they said.

"The more powers that local government and forestry officials get, the more chances we create for them to connive with illegal loggers," Phuc said.

Instead, the government should discipline forest rangers and take care of the interests of communities living near forests so that they would stop cutting down trees, he said.

Corrupt forest rangers were recently in the national spotlight after a scandal involving six forest rangers in the north-central province of Nghe An.

On December 7 a truck, carrying timber and more than 15 people reportedly slid down a slope and overturned on National Highway 48C in a village in the mountainous district of Con Cuong.

Seven men died on the spot, three others died on the way to hospital, and five, including the truck driver, were injured.

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Several days after the accident Dao Cong Thang, the chief of one of the forest management stations at the Pu Huong Nature Reserve, confessed to the police that he had been in the truck.

He and Nguyen Kim Hung, a ranger, were in the vehicle on orders from Trinh Thanh Long, the chief of the Pu Huong Forest Management Office and deputy director of the reserve.

They had been told to escort the illegally logged timber in the truck to a storage place.

The dead and injured men had been hired to load and unload the timber.

A car with three forest rangers inside Phan Sy Tuan, chief of another station, and his subordinates Tuan and Phuc escorted the truck.

Thang and Hung were sitting in the cabin and escaped with minor injuries. A car picked them up and drove away, leaving the workers behind, crushed under the timber.

The police have arrested all six officials.

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