by Eliswan Azly
Jakarta (ANTARA News) - With many findings on illegal logging cases and smuggled timber trading on border areas shared by Indonesia and Malaysia, the two countries which share their cultural roots and beliefs need to harmonize their anti-timber smuggling procedures.
Due to the lack of harmonized procedures, Malaysia`s commitment to combat illegal logging and timber trading across its borders with Indonesia is often not followed.
Illegal logging and timber trading were often found using many heavy equipment belonging to Malaysian bosses that had been confiscated in Indonesian forest areas close to border.
Timber smuggled into Malaysia from Indonesian forests was often legalized by Malaysian authorities, Forestry Minister MS Kaban said in a dialogue forum here on Wednesday.
Perhaps the timber illegally brought into Malaysia was covered by certain documents but Malaysian authorities never checked their authenticity, he said.
It was true that at the 17th meeting of the Indonesia-Malaysia General Border Commission, the two countries agreed to adopt permanent procedures on coordinated air patrols along their common border, the minister said.
However, the procedures only covered the number of personnel, frequency and location of the coordinated air patrols whereas Indonesia was concerned much about the transactions after the smuggled timber entered Malaysia`s territory.
Furthermore, the minister said the air patrols were only aimed at monitoring security conditions along the Malaysia-Indonesian border region which are prone to illegal activities.
More saddening sometimes was that border guards often seemed to ignore what was happening right under their noses. "This is a ring of collaboration between smugglers and certain elements in the region," the minister said.
MS Kaban said Malaysian companies bought the Indonesian illegal timber to fuel their booming furniture industry. The smuggled timber was also often exported to China, Vietnam and other Asian countries through Malaysia.
The World Research Institute data show Indonesia had lost 72 percent of its forests, and according to some estimates, illegal logging has cost the Indonesian government more than $US3.2 billion a year.
Kaban called on the Malaysian government to hand down harsh sentences to businessmen for buying timber illegally from Indonesia.
"Documents obtained by Indonesian police provided enough evidence on illegal timber shipments from Indonesia to a company in the Malaysian state of Sarawak," he said.
Kaban explained forestry criminal offences in Indonesia, notably in Kalimantan and Sumatra, as well as organized crime like a mafia network, involving people at the highest local level.
The forestry minister also called for closer cooperation between the Customs Office, Police and the Forestry Ministry to stamp out timber smuggling from Indonesia.
Last March, the Indonesian National Police intercepted 19 boats carrying 12,000 cubic metres of timber on Pawan River, in Ketapang, East Kalimantan, suspected of being smuggled into Malaysia.
"There needs to be sanctions against countries taking illegal timber from Indonesia. As long as the market is there, timber theft will always exist," he said, adding that more than 10 million cubic metres of timber had been smuggled into Malaysia each year according to data of 2006," he said.
The latest arrests have been hailed as a bold move, about which the environmental group WALHI Indonesia saying that up until now, the destruction of large parts of forests in Indonesia is the result of the lack of law enforcement.
WALHI said the forestry ministry talked more about sanctions than action, Rully Syumanda, a forestry campaigner with the group, said consequently illegal logging became out of control.
"The problem was also caused by the weakness of Indonesian government itself to prevent anything being dispatched to Malaysia by land or by sea," he said.
Furthermore, Syumanda said the flow of illegal timber from Kalimantan or Sumatra to other parts of Indonesia had declined in the past few years following a government crackdown on the areas.
But he said that was only temporary, and corruption allowed loggers to move more timber into the neighboring country.
"In some particular areas, the police or the minister dealing with this muzzling practice, for example in Saba or West Kalimantan, illegal loggers often bribed the military to enable them to move into Malaysia," Syumanda said.
MS Kaban said the government has adopted a tough stance against the smugglers in Indonesia, but the Malaysian government needed to do more in stopping the flow of illegal timber into its territory.
"The Malaysian market is so close to the Indonesian border, and usually the boats say they were trading timber locally when leaving, but then in the middle of the sea they changed course towards Malaysia...and then they took care of security personnel by Malaysian companies, and given some sort of protection," he said.
"In such operations, all involved will be investigated, including the port master who had permitted the boats to sail."
Earlier, a West Kalimantan newspaper quoted Malaysia`s director of Sarawak forestry Datok Lan Talif Saleh as saying because the violation was committed in Indonesia, his country had no legal right to interfere, and would leave the handling of illegal loggers to Indonesia.
Datok Lan said Malaysia was committed to stamping out illegal logging, when it happened in Malaysia.
But Mr Kaban was calling for increased international support in the fight against illegal logging, urging Malaysia and others not to accept illegal timber or products they know came from Indonesia.
"Malaysia should be introspective, not just protect itself with the formal legalities of its institutions, stamping documents entering the country," he said.