Tue, 05 Aug 2003

Forestry officials armed to fight illegal loggers

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Medan, North Sumatra

As many as 400 officials of the North Sumatra Forestry Office have been armed with guns to protect themselves against illegal loggers.

Each of the officials, including forest police officers, have been armed with 32-caliber FN pistols to fight the illegal loggers, many of whom are believed to be backed by security personnel.

The money to buy the guns came from North Sumatra's 2003 budget.

North Sumatra Forestry Office head Prie Supriyadi said arming the officers was necessary to prevent attacks by illegal loggers.

He said his officers needed weapons in order to arrest armed illegal loggers, whose numbers continued to increase in the province.

Local environmental activists have also been targeted for intimidation by the loggers.

Activist Robert Valentino Ginting said he was once threatened at gunpoint to stop agitating against illegal logging.

Robert said the incident occurred on July 15 at the office of the Karo regent.

Supriyadi said he hoped now that his men were armed, they would be more willing to confront illegal loggers and detain them.

"The North Sumatra Police have trained all of my staff in the proper use of firearms. So if they are threatened with guns, they are trained how to respond," he said on Saturday.

Supriyadi did not rule out the possibility that some security personnel were cooperating with the illegal loggers.

He said his office has asked the military and the police to take action against any soldier or officer found to be working with the loggers.

Provincial police spokesman Sr. Comr. Amrin Karim said his office was committed to cracking down on illegal logging, including any security personnel mixed up in the business.

Police in the province have made only one illegal logging- related arrest this year, as well as seizing four truckloads of logs, he said.

Last year, police made 55 arrests in 23 separate cases, seizing 20 truckloads of logs, Amrin said.

Supriyadi said North Sumatra continued to lose more of its forests each year to illegal logging and land clearance.

The destruction has covered more than one million hectares of forest, including protected parks, across the regencies of Mandailing Natal, Langkat, Karo, North Tapanuli, Dairi and Central Tapanuli, he said.

"If this problem is not addressed immediately, deforestation in the province will be even worse over the next few years."