Liberia rainforest: '60% handed to logging companies'

Greenville Timber Yard Liberia: Staging ground for company’s logs before they are shipped out. Up to 60% of Liberia's rainforests are thought to have been granted to logging companies

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Uncontrolled logging is posing a risk to Liberia's virgin rainforests and depriving people of economic benefits, campaign group Global Witness warns.

Its report says that logging companies have been granted more than 60% of the country's rainforests in the six years since Nobel Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became president.

It found that use of private contracts which bypass regulations are common.

President Sirleaf has already ordered a investigation into the issue.

She had been praised for revoking corrupt and badly managed logging companies when she took office in 2006, after timber was used to finance arms sales during Liberia's long and bloody civil war.

The West African nation still has some of the largest areas of rainforest in the region, but the Global Witness report alleges that nearly a quarter of Liberia's landmass has been signed to logging companies using secret and often illegal permits.

'Massive deforestation'

It says that some logging companies are signing Private Use Permits (PUPs), which were designed to allow private land owners to cut trees on their property, in order to get round legislation.

"It does mark an extraordinary breakdown of law in Liberia's logging sector, a sector which has received an awful lot of support since the war both from President Johnson Sirleaf and from the US, the EU and other international partners," said Jonathan Gant, a policy advisor at Global Witness.

Local activists first raised concerns in June 2011, and the Liberian government put a moratorium on PUPs in February - although it does not appear to have fully stopped the practice.

President Sirleaf ordered a full-scale investigation last week and suspended a government official.

Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown told the BBC: "We don't want to even imagine that government officials and authorities assigned specific duties would undertake to do something else. It is frankly mindboggling."

He said that PUPs had been designed for non-commercial purposes, such as farmers with small areas of land - not major international logging firms.

"What we're finding out sadly is that the community is not benefiting, the government is not getting the taxes it requires. But more than that the guys are spreading out into the countryside and engage in massive deforestation and this was never the intention."

Silas Siakor of the Sustainable Development Institute commented: "If Liberia's forests and the people who depend upon them are not to be swallowed whole by Private Use Permits then the suspension of logging operations must stand this time and a comprehensive independent investigation must be undertaken."

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