4 June 2006

Kenya: Forest Officers Sent Packing Over Logging

Nairobi — Three top Rift Valley forest officers have been suspended in connection with illegal logging in three districts exposed by our investigative team two weeks ago.

The three include a senior provincial forest officer and two senior forest officers in Uasin Gishu and Kericho.

One of the officers confirmed that he had received his suspension letter, but declined to divulge more details.

Last week, the Permanent Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources said that an investigative team from the ministry's headquarters had been sent to the affected districts, and also Koibatek.

During our the stake-out of three days and nights, a chief was caught on camera supervising illegal logging in Timboroa forest while others fled on seeing the approaching journalists in various forests, that included Sorget.

Rampant charcoal burning was also evident in the forests visited by the team. Illegal loggers, it was revealed, used forged permits to transport timber through police roadblocks.

It was established that senior government officials are deeply involved in the wanton destruction of forests and turn a blind eye to illegal logging in Rift Valley Province and elsewhere.

Investigations revealed that chiefs, district officers, forest officers and other senior government officials had formed a network to rape the forests even as an outcry continues over Kenya's deteriorating forest cover.

The survey, in 10 forests in three Rift Valley districts, uncovered massive destruction of forests through the felling of trees for timber and charcoal.

The systematic harvesting of the forest materials was done both in broad daylight and at night. In all cases, the people who were charged with protecting the forests either abetted the theft by looking the other way, or supervised the operation.

Permits fraudulently obtained or documents forged with the connivance of forest officers were then used to transport the cargo to destinations of demand - mostly Nakuru and Nairobi.

The affected districts include Uasin Gishu, Kericho and Koibatek where, in some cases, charcoal burners and illegal loggers fled as journalists approached.

The most dramatic capture was that of a chief supervising a logging operation a stone's throw-away from his office. The chief alleged that he was afraid of naming top government officials behind the syndicate.

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