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DR Congo arrests 14 Chinese for wood smuggling

A laborer rests after cutting logs in Bandundu, DR Congo, in this file photo. (AFP)
LUBUMBASHI: Fourteen Chinese people suspected of illegally exporting red wood from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) were arrested, local officials said, as Beijing stressed Friday its commitment to tackling the illegal trade.
“We have arrested Chinese people... who were cutting wood in our region,” Celestin Pande, acting governor of the Haut-Katanga region, told AFP.
China responded Friday by saying it supported wildlife conservation and backed efforts to stamp out illegal activities.
“We have noted the relevant reports. China respects the efforts of DR Congo to justly handle the case according to the law,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
“We also hope the lawful rights of Chinese citizens can be safeguarded. We want to stress that China is a signatory of CITES,” the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species which also covers the illegal timber trade.
“For those who are engaged in illegal trade of wildlife products we have zero tolerance. Chinese law enforcement has made efforts to combat trafficking,” added Gueng.
“We are ready to work with the rest of the world to enhance law enforcement ability to support sustainable trade of wildlife animals and plants.”
Pande said 17,000 tons of red wood had been illegally exported to China through Zambia over four months.
“We have arrested 14 Chinese nationals with (tourist) visas, who were involved in cutting and illegally exporting red wood,” an immigration official in Haut-Katanga added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Since the beginning of the year, a crisis linked to exotic wood exports has poisoned relations between DR Congo and neighboring Zambia.
Zambia has seized several hundred vehicles transporting padauk, a dense wood used in construction and woodworking, from DR Congo as part of investigations into exports to China.
Kinshasa has denounced the seizure, but on Thursday a delegation from the capital decided to ban the logging and exportation of red wood from Haut-Katanga.
Haut-Katanga’s forests have been devastated by illegal logging, with wood mostly used for charcoal, the main source of energy for an electricity-deprived population.
Separately, the UN Security Council on Thursday urged DR Congo to cooperate with investigations of the murder of two UN experts and mass graves found in the troubled Kasai region.
In a unanimous statement, the council also told the Kinshasa government and the opposition to step up efforts to implement a New Year’s Eve agreement aimed at paving the way to elections.
Council members “stressed the need for a swift and full investigation into the killing” of the two UN experts and “underlined the need for full cooperation from the government of the DRC,” the statement drafted by France said.
The UN has set up a board of inquiry to investigate the deaths in March of Michael Sharp, an American, and Zaida Catalan, a dual Swedish-Chilean national.
They were members of a UN panel of experts seeking to investigate reports of more than 40 mass graves found in the central Kasai region when they were abducted and shot dead. One of the victims was also beheaded.
The council said it would “closely monitor” investigations by the government, working with the UN mission in the DR Congo and the African Union (AU) on rights abuses in Kasai.