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 user 2005-05-11 at 10:25:00 am Views: 61
  • #9360
    Crackdown on Bosnian timber gangs

    In the remote mountains and forests of Bosnia, the illegal
    traders are busy at work. Stripping down the country’s most precious resource,
    wood, loading it on to lorries and selling it on to the highest bidder.

    And it is big business. International investigators estimate that the Bosnian
    economy loses about $100m every year to through tax evasion and corruption in
    the industry.

    In an effort to halt the trade, European Union peacekeepers in Bosnia have
    begun operations to try to clamp down on the illegal loggers.

    “The collapse of the former Yugoslavia meant an end to any regulatory
    system,” says Jure Sesar, the Bosnian Federation’s Deputy Minister for Forestry.

    “In the immediate aftermath of the 1992-5 war, it was natural that many
    people, especially refugees, would illegally cut down trees, either for firewood
    or to sell to try to make ends meet. But since then, more organised criminal
    groups have become involved.

    “Last year alone there were more than 4,000 prosecutions for illegal

    ‘Easy money’

    About 43% of the entire country is covered in forest. Wood and wood products
    are Bosnia’s single biggest export. There is lots of money to be made.

    “The industry is riddled with corruption, from the lowest worker
    to the levels of top management. It even reaches political circles, where profit
    from the industry is used to pay off political favours,” says one international
    investigator, who asked not to be named.

    “It’s really easy money with minimal costs involved.

    “There is also environmental damage. Soil erosion can occur. And in places
    where the sawdust from illegal cutting is dumped, there is a real risk of fire.”

    One of the methods used by the illegal loggers is simply not to declare the
    wood that is chopped down. By law, every log must be stamped so that its history
    can be traced. But the illegal loggers either use false stamps or no stamps at
    all. The wood is then sold on, very often abroad to places like Italy and
    neighbouring Serbia.

    To make control more difficult, there is no state-wide ministry that has
    control over the industry. Responsibility is divided between the two entities
    that make up post-war Bosnia-Hercegovina, the Muslim-Croat Federation and the
    Serb Republic.

    There are too few inspectors on the ground to make sure the rules are being

    With millions of dollars pumped into Bosnia by the EU since the war ended a
    decade ago, there is frustration that revenue that could be earned by a Bosnian
    industry itself is being lost through tax evasion and corruption.

    Peacekeepers’ role

    EU peacekeepers (Eufor) have decided to act.

    Helicopters with advance surveillance equipment are being used to
    track the illegal loggers. Random road checkpoints have been set up across the
    country to intercept wood lorries. Their loads are examined and papers checked.

    “Illegal logging makes up a significant part of the endemic crime and
    corruption in this country which is depriving the government of much needed
    revenue,” says Lt Col Bridget Rose of Eufor.

    “One of our jobs is to bear down on these criminal networks and help to
    assist the border service, the local police and the tax agency.”

    Since Eufor took over from Nato-led peacekeepers at the end of last year,
    they have made a priority of trying to attack organised crime, in all its forms,
    across Bosnia. They believe tackling the problem in the logging industry will
    have further benefits.

    “The criminal gangs involved in the logging business are often the same gangs
    involved in harbouring and protecting indicted war criminals,” says Col Rose.

    “By tackling the loggers, we can also make progress in this area as well.”