Villagers become forest guardians as Vietnam fails to stop rampant illegal logging

Thanh Nien News

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A boy stands on logs of wood that a village in the Central Highlands seized from loggers on April 18, 2015. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre A boy stands on logs of wood that a village in the Central Highlands seized from loggers on April 18, 2015. Photo credit: Tuoi Tre


Dozens of logs around half a meter in diameter piled up in front of the communal house of Kon So Lal Village in Gia Lai Province.
Local young men have been guarding the timber for several days, after hundreds of them seized it from two mini-trucks last Saturday.
The village in the Central Highlands decided to take justice into their own hands, saying local officials who were well aware of the illegal logging did nothing about it.
Yuuh, head of the village, told Tuoi Tre newspaper some people had approached them, offering to pay for the wood.
“We don’t need money. We just want trees in the forest to be left alone.”
An unpaved path that runs through the village is the only way to transport wood out of the forest.
The villagers said every week there would be two mini-trucks fully loaded of wood coming out of the forest, passing a forest ranger station. 
“They usually drove by around 2 or 3 a.m., very fast and were inclined to hit anyone.”
Rare success
They tried to stop the vehicles many times but only succeeded last Saturday, when one of them had a flat tire.
A villager was visiting his field and saw the trucks passing the rangers, so he informed the villagers at home, who then brought knives and canes to wait by the road.
When one tire of one of the vehicles went flat, the villagers rushed over to arrest both drivers.
After hours failing to persuade the villagers to release them, the drivers suddenly lifted the beds of their trucks to drop the wood and fled.
Asked why they chose to stop the drivers themselves, a villager said: “We’ve never seen rangers around.”
A ranger at the station nearby said they did not because the government has made the village in charge of the forest, a claim that locals would reject. 
Chanh, another villager, said locals would have to knock on many doors if they want to take some fallen trees from the forest to build houses, but some strangers could just drive full trucks of wood out of the village with no trouble.
“We are so angry we have to stop them.”
Illegal logging caused at least six percent of forest loss in Vietnam, according to the agriculture ministry.
Officials at a meeting earlier this month said deforestation has persisted as it is either condoned or overlooked by the authorities.

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