Wood poachers rule the road in southern Vietnam

By Thanh Nguyen, Thanh Nien News

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Poachers carrying logs on modified and unregistered motorbikes in the south central province of Ninh Thuan. Photo: Thanh Nguyen
Nguyen Xuan Dong died last year after colliding with a massive log tied to a motorbike speeding down a road in the south central province of Ninh Thuan.
His father, Nguyen Van Phuong, said the accident occurred near the Ninh Son District park ranger station at around 8 p.m. on December 8, 2013.
Local residents in the province’s Ninh Son and Bac Ai districts have complained about the way in which timber poachers dominate the roads, threatening overall traffic safety.
Phuong said there should be strict measures to punish the illegal loggers.
“These poachers are no different than killers. They are willing to crash into any driver who gets in their way,” he said.
Thanh Nien investigation and found rampant wood poaching in two district forests managed by the Ninh Son and Tan Tien companies.
The companies are state-owned firms tasked with planting and harvesting trees in accordance with government plans. They are not permitted to allow private wood harvesting.
Illegal poachers often travel in packs of motorbikes moving at high speeds while loaded with lumber that spans up to three meters across--double the width of the average car.
All of their motorbikes are unregistered and outfitted with four additional shock-absorber forks on their rear wheels that enable them to load up their motorbikes.
Their engines are also generally modified to give them more torque.
Rampant poaching
On the evening of October 4, scores of motorbikes loaded with logs sped through Ninh Son District at high speeds near the intersection of National Roads 27 and 27B--a place known as the Ninh Binh Crossroads.

Another person sits high to watch out for government patrols. Photo: Thanh Nguyen   
Le Van Tam, a resident of the district’s Luong Son Commune, said he often sees them moving timber out of the forest until the early morning.
“Some drivers have a lookout perched on their timber to watch out for police. They often escaped down small roads when they detect park ranger patrols,” he said.
Locals either pull over or veer into adjacent fields when they see the overloaded timber hauls come shooting up the road.
Nguyen Thanh Huan, a bus driver who frequently drives from Ninh Thuan to the Central Highlands resort town of Da Lat said he is intimately aware of the problem.
“A motorbike overloaded with illegal logs hit my bus last year at around 3 a.m. on October 20 near the Ninh Binh crossroads at high speed," he said. "I couldn't avoid him. Many people arrived soon afterward to take the driver and his timber away and beat me black and blue."
Ninh Thuan park rangers working with other agencies have seized 116 motorbikes, 21 chainsaws, 2 zip guns and more than 20 cubic meters of wood during forest patrols since July.
Incompetent, corrupt officials
Phung Tri Thanh, head of Ninh Son Park Ranger Station, said the poachers are fully willing to attack government officials on duty.
“Moreover, we did not chase after them for fear they would cause traffic accidents down the road,” he said.
Thanh admitted to having witnessed two traffic accidents caused by timber poachers on the section of highway directly in front of his office.

Motorbikes seized from illegal loggers in Ninh Thuan Province. Photo: Thanh Nguyen
Meanwhile, Senior Lieutenant Pham Van Thao of the district traffic police said all poachers ignored orders to pull over.
Police couldn't track down the owners because each poacher drives an unregistered motorbike with no license plate.
Trinh Minh Hoang, deputy director of Ninh Thuan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, admitted that wood poaching is common in Ninh Son and Bac Ai districts.
“We can't solve this problem because a limited number of personnel have been put in charge of large areas criss-crossed with poor-quality roads,” he said.
“Some officials at the agencies assigned to protect the forests have colluded with or become overly-familiar with the poachers and let them go.”

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