By Tun Tun
Buthidaung: Some Burmese military officers deployed in Buthidaung Township in Arakan State are widely engaging in cross-border timber smuggling, said a local timber trader.
“The army officers’ syndicate with a rich Muslim businessman known as Mannan to produce and smuggle out timber from our area to neighboring Bangladesh. The commander of LIB 234 is the main mastermind who issues permits to Mannan to run the racket,” said the trader.
He added that Mannan offers regular bribes to the commander in order to get the monopolistic permits for producing and trading timber in the area, apart from sharing profits with him and other military officers.
“Mannan gives everything the commander wants – from beverages to valuable things such as generators, computers, motorcycles, television, and iron, and so on. That’s why the commander has favored him for the permits for producing and trading timber in our area. The forests in Saidin and Mayu Mountain Ranges in our area have now become almost depleted because Mannan and the army officers have extracted timber from those forests on a large scale and smuggled them out to the neighboring country,” he said.
While speaking about the smuggling routes to Bangladesh, the trader said, “The timbers are being produced from Saidin and the Mayu Mountains by hired local woodcutters and brought to Taung Bazar, from where they are shipped to Khwasone Area. Then they are smuggled out to Bangladesh in large boats crossing the Naff River.”
He added that the Military Operation Command 15, known locally as Sakhaka, that is based in Taung Bazar also receives a share of the profits from those cross-border timber smugglings.
The local residents also said timber production and woodcutting in the forests in Buthidaung Township is not allowed without prior permits from the responsible commanders of the army battalions based nearby the forests in the area. There is a forestry department to look after the forests in the area, but its officials are engaging with the army officers in the illegal trade for their personal profit, sources said.
According to the timber traders on the border, Burmese timber such as teak, yellow champak, and dipterocarpus alatus are currently priced at 175,000 Taka, 130,000 Taka, and 60,000 Taka per ton respectively in the border market in Bangladesh.
The currency exchange rate on the border at present is 9.5 Burmese Kyat per 1 Bangladeshi Taka.
The traders said that cross-border timber smuggling plays a significant role in bilateral trade between Burma and Bangladesh, and is the most profitable business for traders on both sides.