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Action Alert: PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Logging Violence and Corruption Flare in Sogeram/Ramu, Madang’s Mighty Rainforests

Local landowner initiated court case has shut down logging for two months in the Ramu. The PNG Forest Authority's review of the granting of the right to log to notorious Rimbunan Hijau of Malaysia in Ramu River valley expected soon. Industry and corrupt government officials pulling out all stops to re-grant permit to this violent and corrupt criminal-enterprise, and to allow Malaysian logger into the partially logged Sogeram as they wait. Massive cash payments and brutal violence – to intimidate communities resisting logging – is rife. Yet local protest to logging continues to intensify in Madang, as do calls to end all industrial primary rainforest logging in PNG.

By Forests.org, a project of EcoInternet - February 7, 2010

In partnership with Rainforest Rescue

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Additional Background

The mighty Ramu River valley in Madang Province, Papua New Guinea flows for some 450 miles (720 km) – through over a million hectares (2.47 million acres) of sparsely populated primary lowland rainforest and swamp forest. The Ramu contains a wide variety of tropical Australasian marsupials, including tree kangaroos, and thirteen mammal species that are endemic or near endemic. The local tribes are loving, simple people; most of whom have had little if any formal education. As they become more aware of the outside world, they reasonably want to meet their basic needs for education, medicines, transportation and improved living standards.

Sadly industrial logging of their rainforests is often seen as the one way to advance themselves. Several logging concessions covering hundreds of thousands of hectares have already been laid out, logging has started by criminal Rimbunan Hijau (RH) of Malaysia in Ramu Block 1. Tiong Hiew King is the Chairman of Rimbunan Hijau, and after years of viciously denuding much of Asia/Pacific's rainforests, is reportedly the richest man in Asia. RH's intent as demonstrated by the massive logging infrastructure they have already built is clearly to industrially log the entire area. The primary tributary is the Sogeram River, which is crossed to reach the Ramu, has already been partially logged by another now defunct Malaysian logging company, and RH corruptly seeks to acquire remaining forests here as well. They are close to doing so.

Local group Asples Madang – a project of Ecological Internet – is the only organization working with all Ramu and Sogeram landowners to end logging. Some seek to end the logging to pursue alternatives, others prefer existing provincial logging companies that operate somewhat more responsibly and with a much lower impact. Yet all are united with concerns over RH’s sociopathic reliance upon violence and corruption to illegally destroy their birthright. Having seen this logging mafia in action for almost a year, landowners are united in wanting RH out now. This fragile alliance has stopped the logging since November 2009 based upon a Sogeram landowner court case that shows the Forest Management Area (FMA) was illegally granted. This is only a temporarily reprieve however, as both RH and competing logging companies have literally been taking bags of money into the bush to bribe ill-informed and poverty-stricken landowners.

This renewed competition for logging rights offers a unique opportunity for forest protectors to unite to expel RH, and work to end or carefully limit and control logging. This will first require outing massive ongoing corruption and violence by RH and the national government. It is reported that RH has again made major bribes to the Somare government to keep the FMA. And they have unleashed deadly violence upon landowners which have bravely been petitioning to have the FMA canceled or removed from RH. In late 2009, drunken youth broke into RH’s tool shed. On the behest of Francis Wong – RH’s local manager – local police were bribed to send a message to the community to end their resistance. The next day two youths were separately rounded up by visibly drunken police and unknown associates, and shot with a military style M-16 rifle at point blank range in the leg.

After the torture, neither was arrested but were just left to bleed. Both were hospitalized with a shattered leg, with the youth in the photo having just now after two months of treatment been discharged from hospital. Asples Madang’s Director – Peter Las from the Sogeram – has been single-handedly helping these youths, documenting their story, bringing them food and seeking to have criminal charges brought. But Asples Madang is critically short of funding to do so. After sending the alert, you will be forwarded to a donation page to “Save the Ramu”. 100% of your support will be given to Sogeram and Ramu landowners to pay for transportation, office and patrolling expenses to resist RH and their style of industrial logging in general. There exists a marvelous opportunity to stop the horrendous ecological sustainability and human rights abuses threatening the peoples and habitats of Asples Madang – the people of Madang. No one but you and I are standing with Ramu Block 1 and Sogeram landowners bravely resisting RH and industrial primary rainforest logging. Please send the alert, and if possible, give what you can afford to their locally initiated and run campaign. This is the beginning of the campaign to end industrial scaled first time logging of PNG’s and then the world's remaining primary rainforests.

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Violence by loggers against villagers threatening to expel them - Ramu,  Madang Province, Papua New Guinea
This youth was tortured after minor crime of breaking into one of logger Rimbanan Hijau's tool sheds. In retaliation and as a warning to communities organizing to resist RH, he and another youth were pulled by bribed police from their homes and shot at point blank range in the leg with an M-16 rifle. They were left to bleed, rather than arrested or transported to hospital.  (link)

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