Myanmar Junta to Sell More Timber in Search for Hard Currency
By The Irrawaddy 8 June 2021
Myanmar’s military regime will hold further timber auctions on June 23 and 24 as it seeks to raise hard currency to fund its coup.
Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE), the state-run entity which controls Myanmar’s timber sales, held three separate auctions in late May in which nearly 10,300 tons of timber were sold for around US$5 million (8.2 billion kyats). The wood sold reportedly came from a stockpile of 200,000 tons of illegal timber seized under the ousted National League for Democracy government.
A total of 14,181 tons of timber from Sagaing, Bago and Yangon regions and Rakhine and southern Shan State will be auctioned in the June sale. The auction will be held in Yangon’s Dagon Township with buyers bidding online.
Due to international sanctions and domestic boycotts of military-linked products, the junta is suffering from a shortage of hard currency. Washington has already sanctioned MTE and other groups and individuals involved in Myanmar’s timber trade.
MTE has also invited tenders for the transportation of 67,690 tons of timber from western Sagaing Region to Monywa and Yangon. The logs are set to be sold in future auctions.
In May, the Forest Department awarded Myint Brother Co a permit to log 1,500 tons of timber as quickly as possible in Maungdaw District, Rakhine State.
A Forest Department official said that 1,500 tons of timber is not unusual for a big infrastructure project like bridge construction, but queried why such a large quantity is needed when most construction projects have been halted amid post-coup turmoil.
In a May report, the Environmental Investigation Agency questioned the motives behind the regime’s timber sales.
“Why would this State enterprise do this, other than to obtain desperately needed hard currency to continue the junta’s brutal persecution of the people of Myanmar?” the agency asked in its report.
Tu Khawng, the Minister for Resources and Environmental Conservation in the National Unity Government set up to rival the junta, has urged timber firms to stop cooperating with the military regime and join the civil disobedience movement by not paying for timber.
Meanwhile, the junta has formed new committees for the development of timber-based industries.
“New committees for the development of wood-based industries and mills in the country have been formed. The junta has said it will discuss measures to develop the industry with businessmen. I plan to attend the discussion,” said one local timber businessman.
Both the US and Canada have imposed sanctions targeting the military regime’s attempts to profit from the timber trade.
U Khin Maung Yi, the military-appointed Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Conservation, has been placed on the US Treasury’s special designated national list to block his assets and prohibit US citizens from dealing with him.
That listing 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 MTE.
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