Mon, 15 May 2000

Security personnel aid timber thieves

JAKARTA (JP): The theft and smuggling of logs in the country is highly organized and supported by security personnel and some officials, a top government official said.

Secretary-general of the Ministry of Forestry and Plantations Suripto told journalists in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, on Saturday that the thieves equipped themselves with sophisticated communication devices.

"The equipment is even better than that belonging to the 30th Battalion of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad)," Suripto said, referring to the Army unit deployed on the border between Indonesia and Sabah in Malaysia to counter log smuggling.

Destruction of forests bordering East Kalimantan and East Malaysia has now reached 14 kilometers into Indonesia, according to Suripto as reported by Antara.

Suripto, a retired serviceman, said the logs were commonly smuggled to neighboring countries like from Jambi to west Malaysia, from West Kalimantan to Serawak, from East Kalimantan to Sabah, and from Irian Jaya and Maluku to the People's Republic of China.

The smugglers always manage to evade crackdowns, thanks to information leaked by the security personnel they recruit, he added.

Suripto was accompanying forestry and plantations minister Nur Mahmudi Ismail, who visited Pontianak seaport to witness the seizure of 70 containers of stolen logs, which were to be shipped to Singapore onboard the Clover.

The ship was ordered to return to the seaport six hours after embarking on Wednesday after students held officials at the seaport hostage. The students resorted to the action after their efforts to convince the officials that the ship was carrying illegal logs failed.

"We are very proud of the students," Mahmudi said on Saturday. He added he would award them.

Suripto said his office was trying to break the theft ring's infrastructure, including by destroying the road built by the group to smuggle the logs.

Meanwhile in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, spokesman for the provincial police Lt. Col. Faah Soemarno denied Suripto's allegation that local police were involved in the log stealing.

"It's not unfair to accuse the police and security personnel. There are only 30 police available to watch out a span of 1,000 kilometers along the border," Faah said, adding that the ministry and forest police were responsible for measures to prevent the destruction of the forest near Malaysia's border.

Faah said the personnel were simply unable to prevent the stealing, and that people suspected they allowed the thefts to go on.

"The ministry's regional office should control the group's operations and provide security personnel with adequate facilities," Faah said, adding that the office had promised the police a helicopter.(08)