Myanmar Junta Auctions Illegal Timber for Hard Currency: EIA

By The Irrawaddy 27 May 2021

An international environmental investigation agency says Myanmar’s military regime is seeking hard currency by auctioning large quantities of illegal timber.

The auction is due to be held by the Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE), the state-run entity which controls Myanmar’s timber sales.

Today’s (Thursday) open tender by the enterprise’s Export Marketing and Milling Department was announced in state-run newspapers last week.

The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) said the National League for Democracy government seized about 200,000 tons of illegal timber, which created the stockpile due to be auctioned.

The MTE said 390 tons of teak and 4,030 tons of other hardwood will be auctioned on Thursday in Yangon.

The organization and other groups and individuals involved in Myanmar’s timber trade have been sanctioned by the US. The EIA warned that any trader paying US dollars to buy wood at the auction is knowingly breaking US sanctions to obtain illegal timber.

Faith Doherty, the EIA’s forests campaigns leader, questioned why the state enterprise would hold the auction other than to obtain desperately needed hard currency to continue the junta’s brutal persecution of civilians.

Since the February coup, the regime has killed more than 800 civilians and detained thousands of citizens, including journalists.

“This is additional confirmation of the EIA allegations that the military regime is using timber to support itself and its reign of terror,” Doherty said.

Due to international sanctions and domestic boycotts of military-linked products, the regime has been suffering from a shortage of hard currency.

The MTE’s auction allows traders to place a deposit of US$10,000 (16.5 million kyats) before bidding for a final price. All transactions are finalized in US dollars and the process is opaque, without any transparency or traceability until the deposit is paid, according to the EIA.

Last week, the US Treasury placed U Khin Maung Yi, the military-appointed minister of natural resources, environment and conservation, on its special designated national list to block his assets and prohibit US citizens from dealing with him.

It also gives the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control the power to investigate his activities and connections, including any companies engaged in business with him and the MTE.

The EIA has been monitoring timber seizures in Myanmar for several years and has long been warning timber traders seeking to import Burmese teak and other precious hardwoods that without clear, verified information on its origin, all timber imported from the country is illegal.

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