A report from the UK-based Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Indonesian organisation Telapak said huge quantities of unlawfully-logged wood from across Indochina pass through Vietnam, driving rapid deforestation in the region.

The NGOs said their undercover investigations showed that criminal networks are looting the forests of Laos, despite national laws banning the export of logs and sawn timber.

EIA and Telapak are now calling for better enforcement by timber producing nations such as Laos and the introduction of new laws in the EU and US banning the import of illegal timber products.

Investigators posing as investors said they met one Thai businessman who bragged of paying bribes to senior Laos military officials to secure timber worth potentially half a billion dollars.

Secret filming at one border crossing showed 45 trucks laden with logs lining up to cross from Laos into Vietnam.

The report estimated at least 500,000 cubic metres of logs are moved between the two countries in this way every year.

Julian Newman, head of EIA’s Forests Campaign, said: “The cost of such unfettered greed is borne by poor rural communities in Laos who are dependent on the forests for their traditional livelihoods.”

The report criticises the role of consumer demand for cheap garden furniture in Europe and the US.

“The ultimate responsibility for this dire state of affairs rests with the consumer markets which import wood products made from stolen timber,” Mr Newman said.

“Until these states clean up their act and shut their markets to illegal wood products, the loss of precious tropical forests will continue unabated.”

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas announced last week that the Commission will propose new measures to tackle illegal logging in May.

Kate Martin

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