South Sudan leaders, Moyo RDC clash over illegal logging

Thursday July 2 2020

Logs of Afzelia africana tree at a camp in Moyo

Logs of Afzelia africana tree at a camp in Moyo District last month. South Sudan authorities accuse Moyo Resident District Commissioner Bob William Labeja of protecting illegal companies currently cutting trees and smuggling logs across the border. PHOTO | TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY 

By TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

South Sudan authorities have accused the Moyo Resident District Commissioner, (RDC), Mr Bob William Labeja, of protecting illegal companies currently cutting trees and smuggling logs across the border.

According to an April 30, 2020 letter, a copy of which Daily Monitor has seen, Mr Santino Butali, the executive director of Kangapo County and chairperson of the security committee of Kajo-Keji, South Sudan, wrote to Mr Labeja, accusing him of harbouring the illegal log dealers currently logging and smuggling forest products in Yei state.

“Our investigation found out that a company (Agwet Logging Company, we could leave the name of the company out since we didn’t seek their views), now stationed in Moyo District, is the perpetrator of all these illicit acts despite our warnings and stoppage of their illegal logging activities inside South Sudan,” Mr Butali wrote.

He added that they were also informed of illegal logging activities in Moijo West of Kangapo defunct county and illegal logging routes from Limi via Moijo stream into Moyo with support of the RDC’s office .

Despite a government ban on cutting and trading in logs (Afzelia Africana and Teak logs), some government officials have been accused of continuing to weave their way through the business.

Last year, South Sudanese authorities in Yei River State and Uganda’s West Nile districts agreed to ban illegal logging and trading along their common border areas.
Mr Labeja confirmed that he had seen a copy of the letter but noted that the officials contradicted themselves.

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“According to documents I have, impounded logs were publicly auctioned to this Aguet Company by the South Sudanese authorities who are again writing to me asking me to arrest these dealers,” he said.

Mr Labeja insisted that it did not make any meaning that documents issued from Juba okayed the trade while those from the county leaders condemned it.

However, the South Sudan leaders alleged that documents issued to the dealers from Juba were fake and illegal and that Mr Labeja has continually issued clearance and provided security to the loggers despite an earlier meeting which called for an end to the vice. Recently, Col
John Kamilo, the South Sudan Peoples Defense Forces sector commander for Kajo-Keji County, wrote to the Moyo RDC, explaining how activities of the loggers in Uganda have hurting South Sudan.

In the letter seen by this newspaper, Col Kamilo reminded Mr Labeja how a logging company (Agwet) entered South Sudan into Limi Hills and started carrying extensive logging without the knowledge and approval of county authorities while operating a base in Uganda.

Visit to logging camps
To corroborate the allegations drawn against Mr Labeja, this reporter visited Metu Sub-county where three log camps were earlier on alleged to be established.

On June 15, this reporter set off from Moyo Town for one of the log camps owned by Agwet Trading Co. Ltd in Kweyo Village, Pamujo Parish. On the 13km journey leading to the camp are two roadblocks manned by armed personnel dressed in UPDF uniforms.
“Once the logs are delivered from South Sudan under guard to the riverside (Moijo stream) through undesignated border points, trucks then move them to the camp inside Uganda in Moyo here,” Mr Alex Maktum, a log dealer, explained.

“We roll the logs across Moijo River into Uganda. From the camp, we drive through Arua to Karuma because, at Nimule, Elegu or in Gulu, they intercept your truck and arrest you at the checkpoints,” he added.

Mr Maktum displayed a set of documents he claimed to have obtained from the office of the RDC of Moyo.

The clearance dated May 11, 2020, which was addressed to police and army officers commanding counter-logging operations in the district, was signed by Mr Labeja.

In another letter seen by this newspaper, Mr Labeja ordered security officers not to interfere with the logging business of Mr Joseph Mayan, a South Sudanese businessman.

“The bearer of this note, Joseph Mayan, is a businessman and has been granted permission to load his logs which were here on a Ugandan site. Please accord him the necessary assistance,” the letter reads.

Moijo stream, according to Mr Ray Draciri, the chairperson for Kweyo Village “is currently the entry where logs are sneaked here. They choose to avoid gazetted border entries where customs officers from both countries are located.”

He said once they complained to Mr Labeja, he instead said they should collaborate with the loggers.

Agwet Trading Company Ltd, Dut & Sons Co. Ltd, Dung Phuong Import and Export Ltd, Vietnam are among the several logging companies alleged to be stocking logs in Moyo District.

On Tuesday, the National Forestry Authority, (NFA) spokesperson, Ms Aisha Alibhai, said in a telephone interview that NFA had gone to the area to seek a solution to the problem.

“NFA is aware of such illegalities taking place in Moyo District and has taken action already. Last week, our executive director, Mr Tom Okello, together with Ms Margaret Adata were in Moyo to meet the authorities and seek a solution to the problem,” Ms Alibhai said.

“The Environment ministry is now working on a document to formally guide Moyo District administration on how to handle those illegal logs,” she added.

Illegal trade
It is reported that 80 per cent of the banned Afzelia logs that are cleared as from South Sudan are actually cut from within Uganda.

Last year, South Sudanese authorities in Yei River State and Uganda’s West Nile districts agreed to ban illegal logging and trading along their common border areas.

Senior political and security officials from Kupera, Morobo, Lujulo and Kajo-Keji under Yei River State had earlier on met their counterparts from Moyo, Yumbe, Arua and Koboko districts to discuss how to end illegal logging.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

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