Central Vietnam forests losing precious wood to Chinese 'hunters'

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A piece of ironwood is dragged by a buffalo past a local garden in Le Thuy District, Quang Binh Province.

Chinese nationals offering higher than local black market prices for illegal timber are driving the poaching of precious trees in central Vietnam, aided significantly by the apparent indifference of local authorities.

A Friday report in the Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper said the prime target of the Chinese buyers was Quang Binh, the country's greenest province with forest coverage of more than 60 percent and many primary forests.

It cited several locals as saying some Chinese were among the people who sought to buy the "sua" timber after three trees were felled at the UNESCO Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in April.

"There were three Chinese who came with some people from Hai Phong in early May. They were protected by the northern gangsters and I heard that they wanted to look at the timber to buy," said a local wood carrier, only identified as Nguyen N.

Thai Xuan Tiem, one of the 11 people who felled the trees, also confirmed that some Chinese wanted to buy all the timber.

"But there were people robbing the timber at the time and they were scared of the rangers, so they did not buy it then.

"They stayed in the forest for two days and left."

The Chinese arrived with tourism visas and receptionists at local hotels said they saw the guests carrying swords and guns.

But local police officers only said they are "checking."

Meanwhile, many local dealers have supported the wood hunt by letting the Chinese stay in their houses in the hope of winning rich deals.

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The Chinese are offering VND2 million ($96) for a piece of ironwood three meters long, 5 centimeters thick and 20 centimeters wide, three times higher than the price in local black markets.

A local told Saigon Tiep Thi anynomously that "the Chinese would have local dealers order timber from Laos and collect it in Quang Binh to carry to China by train."

Three local timber dealers, identified as H., P., and T., have been been asked to get nearly 1,000 cubic meters of "sua" (Dalbergia tonkinensis Prain) and "lim", the ironwood from Laos and local forests to sell to the Chinese.

The report said small pieces from the order have already been attached with fake documents to make them legal, and carried to China.

Ho V., a local youth who picked small timber pieces to sell to local dealers, said "the wood hunt has become stronger than ever. They are buying any pieces of the ironwood, long and short, even the roots."

"There's almost no ironwood left now."

The report said ironwood has mostly disappeared in Tuyen Hoa, Minh Hoa and Bo Trach Districts of the province. There are ironwood trees left in Quang Ninh and Le Thuy districts but are not likely to be spared by the Chinese demand, it added.

Both "sua" and the ironwood are banned from logging for commercial purposes in Vietnam.

"Will check"

Locals said the wood hunt involving Chinese has been going on for several months.

Officials from the province Forestation Department, when questioned, said they "will have it checked."

Province chairman Nguyen Huu Hoai also gave the same answer.

Tran Van Tuan, vice chairman of Quang Binh Province, told the press on June 20 that if the Chinese entered Vietnam legally "the trading (with foreign people) is normal as the country is open now."

There was no reference made to the fact that the trade is happening in illegal goods and Vietnam is losing its precious resources because the authorities do not seem concerned about the situation.

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