By LAWI WENG
The Irrawaddy News
Burmese officials have been accepting bribes from a Thai logging company, which is smuggling timber across the Three Pagodas Pass border into Thailand, according to local witnesses.
A businessman in Three Pagodas Pass, who spoke to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, said he witnessed trucks laden with logs passing through the border crossing at night several times.
A local motorcycle taxi driver, who asked to remain anonymous, also said that the Burmese border guards opened the gate at night or sometimes at about 5 a.m. to allow the logging trucks to pass through. He said the guards checked first to make sure there weren’t many people in the street before they waved the trucks through.
The local sources estimate that about 100 trucks containing teak and other hardwoods pass through Three Pagodas Pass every month and that the practice has been ongoing for several months.
Officially, Three Pagodas Pass border crossing is closed and the Burmese junta has not permitted border trade with Thailand since soldiers from the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) kidnapped two Thai border policemen in 2006.
However, according to the local businessman, Burmese officials have made an unofficial trade agreement with Sia Hook, a powerful Sino-Thai logging company.
The source alleged that Sia Hook has been paying Burmese officials bribes of 30,000 baht (US $947) per truckload of teak, and 15,000 baht ($473) for each truckload of any other type of timber, to pass through to Thailand.
It is not clear whether the company has received permission to log timber from the Burmese Forestry Department. However, Sia Hook has been known to cooperate with several Burmese logging companies in the past, whose representatives were able to arrange timber export agreements with local township authorities.
Sia Hook proved itself loyal to the Burmese regime in 1990, when it offered its trucks to transport Burmese troops onto Thai territory to engage the New Mon State Party army, which then controlled Three Pagodas Pass.