The Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate’s Court in Malawi has sentenced 35 people – 23 Mozambicans, 10 Malawians and two Chinese – to between 12 and 18 months imprisonment for illegal logging in a national park which they accessed from their base in Mozambique’s Tete province.
The group was arrested in Lengwe National Park in Malawi’s southern district of Chikwawa in November 2016, and found guilty at the end of March this year. Their prison sentences will be counted from the start of their detention in November 2016.
The group – under the leadership of a Portuguese-Mozambican called Jose Manuel, and two Chinese named Shupei Zheng and Xing Li – also forfeit their equipment valued at around $500,000 , to the Malawian state.
Passing sentence on Tuesday 2 May, chief resident magistrate Thomson Ligowe said the case made history in Malawi as “perhaps the first of such a magnitude of devastation of Mopane trees in a National Park, using such sophisticated and heavy machinery.”
The 35 were accused of cutting down an estimated 240,000 trees, at a value of about $8.9 million. The court seized the group’s six tractors, a fork lift, a bulldozer, a Toyota Hilux twin cab, four motorbikes and a Toyota Land Cruiser.
The loggers focused on large, high-value Mopane trees, but according to the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust in Malawi their operations also destroyed the surrounding habitat of an important catchment area of the Shire River, including the loss of up to one million trees.
The loggers also bulldozed roads through the park that have subsequently opened up the protected area to further degradation and extraction from illegal charcoal burners and poachers.
Satellite imagery showed that an estimated 2,000 hectares of woodland – equivalent to 2,440 football fields – had been deforested in 2016 alone, Lilongwe Wildlife Trust said.
Professor Julian Bayliss, technical advisor to the Government of Malawi on Biodiversity and Protected Areas management, told Zitamar News the case may only be one of a number of such cross-border activities – and called for co-operation between Malawi’s and Mozambique’s authorities to stamp out the problem.
“The case has revealed that there are probably many more illegal logging activities occurring in this area, originating out of Banda Village in Mozambique close to the border of Malawi,” he said. “Both countries are now taking a strong stance against illegal logging in their own countries, but collaborative law enforcement coordination between Mozambique and Malawi will be necessary to stop events like this occurring again.”
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