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Vietnam: we're not pillaging Lao jungles

Government refutes claims of rampant illegal logging in preserved Lao forests
Laos illegal logging 2011 08 12Enlarge
Freshly cut trees. (Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images)

Allegations of a de facto "mini-Vietnam" logging territory set up in Laos to mow down its protected jungles are untrue, according to Vietnam's government.

Vietnam is slamming a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency, a U.K. watchdog group, that claims rampant bribery, timber smuggling and military collusion in Vietnam's booming furniture industry, now powered by sales to the U.S., Europe and China.

Global Post's own report on the alleged illegal logging, which cites the watchdog report, is here. At the time, Vietnam's government assured Global Post and other outlets that "there is no smuggling of timber from Laos by the Vietnamese military" but did not elaborate.

Now, Vietnam has a fuller explanation: it's legally allowed to "exploit some areas as well as log land that was cleared to construct infrastructure," presumably one of Laos' many foreign-funded hydro-power projects that require massive land clearing.

Still, Laos' prohibition on timber exports is meant to let impoverished Lao people turn those sawn logs into a retail-ready product: deck chairs, flooring, etc. They desperately need the jobs. If the trees have to go down, why can't Lao citizens at least get first dibs on their own country's logged jungles?

The government explanation also can't fully explain logging on the scale described by the report, which can be found here. In fairness, it states that only a small portion, perhaps 15 percent, of of illegal timber feed Vietnam's furniture industry. So don't go torching your new "Made in Vietnam" coffee table, especially if you bought it at a large retailer with a vetted supply line.

Still, Vietnam's government insists the report is misinformed, exaggerated and tainted by reserachers' decision to go undercover. Indeed, undercover investigations should be a tactic of last resort. That said, Vietnam's government is not at all transparent and unfettered investigations into its budgets and activities is practically impossible.

Just what does Laos have to say about allegations that its provincial officials are receiving kickbacks to let in Vietnamese logging syndicates?

So far -- and providing we haven't missed anything -- the government has been silent.

For the record, we phoned a Laos Foreign Ministry official, who declined an interview but agreed to e-mail a statement on the allegations. It never arrived.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/the-rice-bowl/vietnam-were-not-pillaging-lao-jungles