Press Release / Oct. 7, 2003

Global Witness Report Launch: ‘A Conflict of Interests: The uncertain future of Burma’s forests.’

Global Witness (1) will launch its first report on logging and conflict in Burma on the 7th October 2003 at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok, Thailand. ‘A Conflict of Interests: The uncertain future of Burma’s forests’, the result of extensive research and fieldwork within Burma, Thailand and China, examines the roots of the civil war and the links between conflict and the control of natural resources in Burma.

“Revenue derived by the regime and insurgents alike from the exploitation of natural resources, including timber, has perpetuated violent armed conflict throughout Burma.” said Jon Buckrell of Global Witness.

‘A Conflict of Interests’ sets out for the first time in detail the history of logging in Burma, the reality of current logging by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), logging by insurgent groups, rampant logging in ceasefire areas, and the cross-border trade in particular with China.

40 years since the imposition of military rule in 1962 the SPDC remains resolutely in power, sustained in part by its control over access to minerals and timber. In 2002, logging alone represented 9.3% of legal foreign exchange earnings. The regime has also traded these resources for
political and military support both within Burma and with neighbouring countries.

“Burma is resource rich but surrounded by resource-hungry nations and the regime has used this fully to its advantage.” said Buckrell.

The need for foreign currency has resulted in cutting, by the state-controlled Myanmar Timber Enterprise, exceeding levels set by the Forestry Department. This, together with chronic mismanagement, corruption and institutional decline has lead to a situation that does not correspond
with the picture of sustainability in the forest sector painted by the regime. ‘Informal’ logging has put even greater pressure on the forests of central Burma. A comparison of official import - export figures suggest that the trade in Burmese timber is at least double that recorded by the regime.

“Unrecorded exports in excess of one million m3, worth approximately 250 million dollars, strongly suggest that the regime has lost control of its forest sector.” (2) said Jon Buckrell.

According to Chinese import data China imported over one million cubic metres of timber from Burma in 2002; this figure is likely to exceed 1.4 million m3 in 2003. Global Witness investigations along the China – Burma border show that logging on this vast scale has lead to the destruction of
large swathes of pristine forest in Kachin State (3), and the massive N’Mai Hku (Headwaters) Project will only make matters worse.

“People’s livelihoods are being destroyed. China must stop logging in Burma immediately to allow time for proper planning that will ensure the forests are used for the benefit of the people of Kachin State rather than Chinese logging companies.”

It is essential that the international community renews efforts to end the conflict in Burma and actively encourages a dialogue between all stakeholders, including the ethnic communities. In addition, the unsustainable exploitation of Burma’s forests can only be effectively addressed by engaging the SPDC on a diplomatic level; engagement does not amount to legitimising the regime or condoning what it does.

“These issues are so fundamental to Burma’s long-term peace and development that they must be addressed now.” said Global Witness.

Notes to editors:

1. Global Witness is a British-based non-governmental organisation, which focuses on the links between natural resource exploitation and conflict.
2. These figures relate to 2002.
3. Kachin State’s forests form part of an area said to be “very possibly the most bio-diverse, rich, temperate area on earth.”
4. ‘A Conflict of Interests: The uncertain future of Burma’s forests’ is available at in Word and pdf formats.
5. For further information please contact Jon Buckrell [email protected]
Alternatively please contact Simon Phillips in Thailand [email protected]

Global Witness. P.O. Box 6042 London N19 5WP.
Tel: 00 (44) 207 272 6731. Fax: 00 (44) 207 272 9425.