Logging fuels African conflict

Feature story - 31 March, 2003
Greenpeace activists in Italy exposed the import of logs from Liberia in the port of Ravenna which are helping to fuel a civil war in West Africa. New evidence reveals that the president and chief shareholder of the timber company has helped import weapons into Liberia destined for use by Liberian-backed rebels in Cote d'Ivoire. These logs are responsible for more than just forest destruction.

Activists paint Liberian logs with 'Logs of War' and 'Forest Crime' in the Italian port of Ravenna.

Logging is a lucrative business in poverty-stricken Liberia and has long been one of the prime sources of government revenue. Following a United Nations ban on all diamond exports from Liberia in 2001, logging has become the single largest source of export earnings for the Liberian government. But at what cost?

After years of excessive exploitation throughout western Africa, Liberia's forest now represents almost half of what remains of a rainforest belt that once covered the whole of Liberia, plus parts of Sierra Leone, Guinea, the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Togo.

This forest is home to some 9,000 species of plants and more than 1,300 species of animals. It supports the only viable populations of the pygmy hippopotamus and represents the last stronghold of the forest elephant in West Africa.

Liberia's forest is also the lifeline of the country's indigenous communities. The forest provides shelter for their physical, cultural and religious life, including hosting shrines, traditional bush schools and cover for streams. It is also a vital source of foods, medicinal herbs and other materials.

Industrial logging has already destroyed much of the accessible lowland and coastal regions of West Africa's tropical forests. It is estimated that almost 90 percent of these forests have already been destroyed and what remains is heavily fragmented.

Recent reports by a Panel of Experts to the UN Security Council reveal that the Liberian timber industry is involved in both environmental destruction and human rights abuses. This includes driving the destruction of the Liberia's remaining forests and illegal arms trafficking.

At least 70 percent of the wood produced in Liberia is destined for the export market. The key actors driving this destructive, corrupt and destabilizing industry are the countries and companies importing the timber.

Liberia's main log exports have traditionally been to Europe with 12 percent destined for Italy.

Last year we confronted the Italian Timber Importer Federation about the presence of Liberian timber on the Italian market. After several meetings, the federation members agreed to stop the import of timber from companies linked with the illicit arms trade and illegal logging operations. Despite this promise a number of Italian importers continue to import Liberia logs.

Greenpeace activists uncovered such a shipment in the Italian port of Ravenna coming from a company heavily linked with the illicit arms trade to Liberia. The timber comes from the Liberia company Maryland Wood Processing Industries (MWPI) whose president has been linked to the illegal trade of weapons in the expert panel report of the UN Security Council

The Italian timber industry has failed to take into account the UN Security Council's evidence showing of the role of the Liberian logging industry in fuelling regional conflict in West Africa. It's time for Italian importers to live up to their words and immediately stop buying conflict timber from countries like Liberia.

The Italian government said it would be in the front line against terrorism and international insecurity, but at the same time Italy is still importing timber which is fuelling the civil war in West Africa and the illegal arms trade. Companies like MWPI illustrate the link between war, conflicts on natural resources and environmental destruction.

We are calling on the Italian government to ban all import of timber coming from Liberia until it can be shown that the timber industry no longer fuels regional conflict.

You can help by not buying timber from Liberia and helping to support our ancient forest campaign to protect the world's remaining ancient forests.