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Locals accuse NUG-affiliated groups of complicity in timber smuggling in Sagaing

Locals in the Sagaing Region townships of Indaw and Banmauk claim that groups operating under the publicly mandated National Unity Government (NUG) have been accepting bribes from smugglers attempting to move illicit timber through northern Myanmar. 

They accused the officials and members of People’s Defence Teams—known locally as Pa Ka Pha—and People’s Administration Teams of taking payment from domestic and Chinese companies to allow them to harvest teak and transport the logs through their territory. 

“They were cutting down trees for timber in eastern Indaw Township and in the area between Indaw and Banmauk,” a 30-year-old Banmauk resident told Myanmar Now. “Now that there are very few trees left in Indaw, they’re harvesting timber mainly in northern and southern Banmauk Township.”

Another local, from Indaw, said that convoys of at least six six-wheeled trucks loaded with timber were seen using both the main road connecting the township to Banmauk, as well as the area’s side roads, every three to four days. 

The smuggled timber is typically taken through Banmauk and Indaw, followed by Katha, Chaungwa and Shwegu, towards the Chinese border for export, he said.

A spokesperson for the Indaw Pa Ka Pha denied accepting bribes from anyone in the logging industry. He told Myanmar Now that the trucks in question were intercepted before reaching the border and fined in accordance with the NUG’s legal directives, before being turned over to the township’s Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Committee, also under the same government.  

An officer within the committee confirmed the Pa Ka Pha spokesperson’s account, saying, “We have never violated any rules.”

He explained that the fines were issued per ton of timber, and the confiscated logs were then auctioned off. 

“We have registered the smuggled timber we managed to seize at the ministry,  and we also have records of the prices at which the timber was auctioned off,” he said. “The starting price of a teak log at auction is between 1m and 1.3m kyat (US$478 and $622), according to the official ground prices set by the NUG.”

He admitted that some trucks may have evaded their surveillance by using off-road paths. 

A member of the Banmauk Pa Ka Pha also denied his group’s involvement in timber smuggling, and stated that no Chinese companies were operating in the township. 

“We stop the timber trucks whenever we run into them while on patrol. We then fine them according to the NUG’s directions,” he said. 

The NUG formed Pa Ka Pha chapters and People’s Administration Teams, as well as People’s Defence Forces, in townships across the country in the aftermath of the February 2021 coup. 

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