Officials stand by as forest burned to charcoal

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Planted forests in the south central province of Phu Yen are being ravaged by charcoal and timber sellers.

Due to a grave deriliction of duty on the part of the proper authorities, the trees' planters say they have resorted to begging the wood prospectors to stop.

On Wednesday, Thanh Nien witnessed charcoal makers proudly carrying their products from Deo Ca forest as the people who planted the forest stood by aghast.

Felled trees lay strewn about on the ground --the victims of loggers who cut down more than they could carry.

Deeper into the forest, hundreds of pits filled with slow-burning wood are turning what was once a promising woodland into lumps of charcoal.

Bui Thi Tuyet Trinh, one of the charcoal makers, said she saw many people heading into the forest to make charcoal, so she followed.

It takes two to three days to burn a fresh tree into charcoal and a couple trees will produce around 70 kilograms of charcoal, Trinh said.

Nguyen Thanh Son, a planter, said each logger digs three to four holes to have as much charcoal to sell as possible.

In the meantime, the forest's civilian protectors scramble through the woods trying to scuttle as many of their operations as possible, often to no avail.

"We would break down any charcoal hole we found on our way. But once we returned, the hole would be recovered anew. It's impossible to stop them all," Son said.

Several planters have left their jobs behind to go guard their trees.

Tens of years ago, nine local families were allowed to plant trees in the forest, including keo la tram (Acacia auriculiformis) and sao (Hopea), for the timber.

The trees also help improve the soil quality. Many of the trees are now nearly 20 years old with the trunk 15-30 centimeters in diameter.

But they're not the only victims. The loggers are also destroying trees in the government's five million hectare national park.

Nguyen Sau, another planter, said "we've planted the trees for more than ten years and the loggers are destroying everything while we haven't got anything back yet."

"They take the big trees for timber and burn the small ones for charcoal," Sau said.

"When we confront the loggers, they threaten to beat us; we don't know where to seek help. When we told the forest managers, they said there's no way the loggers could beat all of us. So we could only beg the loggers to stop."

Ngo Trong Nghia, Chief Manager of Deo Ca Forest, refused to talk about the problem to Thanh Nien, saying he had to wait for orders from Phu Yen Forest Management Department.

Meanwhile Le Van Be, Deputy Head of Phu Yen Forest Management, said he also needed approval from his superior.

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