Vietnam cop arrested for stealing illegally logged timber

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  The stumps of three precious Sua trees cut down at Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park in central Vietnam in March 2012

A police officer in central Vietnam has been arrested for leading a group of armed bandits who stole timber after it was illegally cut down by criminal loggers in a national park.

Nguyen Van Hieu will be detained for four months, together with four others, for leading a group that stole extremely valuable Sua wood from Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, police in the central province of Quang Binh were quoted as saying by a Tuoi Tre report Wednesday.

The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Earlier, 15 kilograms of the timber, worth around VND200 million ($9,580) in total on the black market, was seized at Hieu's house.

Hieu and his group had been armed with guns and knives they used to force illegal loggers to sell illegal timber to them at cheap prices. They also logged themselves and stole timber directly from the park.

On April 29, Hieu led more than 40 people into the park, forcing a group of illegal loggers to sell 450 kilograms of timber for a total price of VND1.3 billion (US$62,280). The group returned on May 2 though no further details of other transactions have been provided by police.

Park management officials have also suspended Nguyen Thanh Tri, a vice chief ranger at a ranger station in the park, for 15 days on allegations that he had taken some timber for himself.

Three precious Sua trees were felled in late March, but the 11 suspected loggers only turned themselves in on June 2, after a summon from police.

The loggers had managed to move six tons of the timber out of the park and sell it for VND38 billion ($1.82 million), according to police. They were then allegedly robbed by Hieu and his gang.

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Local rangers have said it's impossible for them to cope with illegal loggers as their staffs are small and insufficiently armed.

Vietnam banned the use of Sua (Dalbergia tonkinensis) for commercial purposes in 2007, but high demand for the precious wood, especially from China, sustains illegal logging.

The wood is used mainly for decorative purposes.

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