The Irrawaddy

Huge Haul of Smuggled Teak Seized in Southern Rakhine

A Forestry Department official inspects smuggled teak logs seized in Taungup Township, Rakhine State.

YANGON — More than 30 tons of smuggled teak were seized in the village of Kaing Shae near Taungup Township in southern Rakhine State on Monday, according to a local forestry official.

Sawn teak and teak logs were found in the compound of a concrete mixing facility owned by Aung Myin Thit Co near Kaing Shae village, Taungup Township Forestry Department official U Lwin Ko Oo told The Irrawaddy.

“I am sure it is smuggled teak; otherwise it would have the mark of Myanma Timber Enterprise,” he said.

The Forestry Department opened a smuggling case under Article 42 of the Forestry Law, he said.

Taungup Township Administrator Hla Moe Oo confirmed the teak haul at the compound of Aung Myin Thit Co, adding that authorities are still investigating the ownership of the company, though one of the owners was reportedly identified as U Win Zaw.

Aung Myin Thit Co built a paved road in Taungup last month. According to U Lwin Ko Oo, the company is not a sole proprietorship, but a partnership, and authorities are still trying to determine the identities of the other partners.

A security guard was present on the company’s compound at the time of the raid, but he had not been working for the company for long and did not own the teak, U Lwin Ko Oo told The Irrawaddy.

The large teak logs were not likely to be from the Rakhine Mountains, said U Lwin Ko Oo, because “there are no more teak trees with trunks that are 12 inches in diameter in the Rakhine Mountains.”

He said the logs might have been smuggled in from Magwe Region via the Padaung-Ann route.

Some media sources in Taungup suggested the teak logs had been stockpiled for sale in local markets or to be smuggled into foreign countries. Teak and other timber is often smuggled into Malaysia and Thailand via Thandwe, Gwa, Taungup and Ma-Ei townships in northern Rakhine State, they said.

Myanmar banned the export of timber logs in 2014, and the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government has restricted logging since 2016 in a bid to curb deforestation.

The ban has forced Myanma Timber Enterprise to rely on existing stockpiles of timber to meet domestic and international demand. Whenever demand exceeds supply, smugglers arise to fill the gap. Illegal logging has long been a persistent problem in Myanmar.

Last year, U Lwin Ko Oo reported the seizure of around 30 tons of smuggled hardwood stockpiled in rivers and creeks in Thandwe and Ann townships. The latest seizure was likely intended to be supplied to the domestic market rather than for illegal export, he suggested.

“If they want to smuggle those logs by water, they would store them in creeks, and not on land,” he said.