Sat, 03 Jun 2000

RI asks Malaysia to jointly probe timber theft

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesia has suggested the Malaysian government form a joint fact-finding mission to investigate the illegal timber trade across the border between the eastern part of Kalimantan and the Malaysian state of Sabah.

Secretary-General of the Ministry of Forestry and Plantations Suripto said his ministry made the suggestion to Malaysia on Friday through its ambassador here and it was positively received.

"The idea was warmly welcomed and the Malaysian ambassador said he would communicate it to his government back home," Suripto said on Friday after a meeting with Malaysian Ambassador Dato Rastam Mohd. Isa.

He said the meeting discussed the findings from last month's raid on illegal loggers in Tarakan, East Kalimantan, conducted by the Indonesian Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad). The raid, which was personally ordered by President Abdurrahman Wahid, uncovered signs of possible involvement by Malaysian timber companies and military.

Suripto said Malaysian timber companies, with the protection of the Malaysian military, had allegedly financed the illegal logging and timber smuggling activities in cooperation with local logging firms and errant military personnel.

Bullet shells and military rations found in the area were identical to those used by the Malaysian Royal Army.

Suripto said the Malaysian ambassador told him that the finding of the rations did not necessarily prove Malaysian military involvement.

He said the ambassador also told him that Malaysian officials had found some Indonesian military issue shoes in Sarawak.

Suripto alleged that timber smuggling in East Kalimantan had been going on for at least 10 years.

He said up to 100,000 cubic meters of illegal timber was smuggled every month out of Kalimantan and into Malaysia via Tarakan, causing the Indonesian government losses of up to US$10 million a month in potential revenues from the forestry sector.

Despite the allegations against the military, Suripto said it and police personnel would be involved in the proposed joint fact-finding mission.

He said Indonesia and Malaysia would also form a joint mission to oversee and assess the reports made by the fact-finding mission.

"If everything goes to plan and the Malaysia government agree to our suggestion, I expect the joint fact-finding mission can start its job immediately so that it will be able to present a report to the commission by July," he said. (cst)