Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Government plans to arm foresters to fight smugglers, illegal hunters

The government is planning for arming the foresters to ensure their safety against smugglers and illegal hunters who attacked them, Minister for Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation Minister U Ohn Win said.

The move was also aimed at making them more effective in protecting the forests, the minister added.

Eight forest staffers including one assistant director died and 42 foresters including one assistant director were injured between 2002 and 2017 due to these attacks, Minister U Ohn Win said.

During last fiscal year, over 50000 tons of illegal wood, 8321 smugglers and 2599 vehicles were seized and it was the highest record seizure during the decade, he said.

“It is the largest arrest of smugglers and biggest seizure of vehicles during the last decade,” U Ohn Win added.

The minister said over 16,600 tonnes of illegal wood, 2188 smugglers were arrested and 973 vehicles were seized during the first three months (April, May and June) of this fiscal year.

Currently, foresters are protecting 49 million acres of reserve forest blocks, outside forests and protected areas and one staff member has to take care of more than 8000 acres of land. Therefore, it is a must to expand the setup and a plan to increase the strength from 15,449 to 18,024 employees has been submitted to higher authorities.

There are some restrictions to arm foresters according to the Constitution. Section 338, Chapter 7 of the Constitution states: “All the armed forces in the Union shall be under the command of the Defence Services.”

Forest staff in Chatthin Wildlife Sanctuary and Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park were classified as people’s militia and armed with small weapons by the Tatmadaw.

Moreover, to establish as an armed organization, laws, rules and setup are required to be drafted or amended in addition to skills and expertise in handling, keeping and using of weapons and facilities like central outposts and explosives depot.

Previously, foresters used rifles, stun guns, double-barreled guns, revolvers, pistols and light machine gun owned by the department but they returned 371 guns to the police since 1998 as it wasn’t officially approved by the State, said U Ohn Win.

Two police battalions were formed and stationed in 17 important districts of seven states and regions to protect the foresters in pursuit of smugglers, it is learnt.

Moreover, forest staff in Chatthin Wildlife Sanctuary and Alaungdaw Kathapa National Park were given military training and formed as a people’s militia unit.