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SLeone lifts ban on timber exports: government

FREETOWN — The Sierra Leone government announced on Wednesday it had lifted a ban on unprocessed timber exports put in place in January to crack down on illegal logging.

"The ban is lifted with immediate effect on the exploitation, transportation and processing of timber to satisfy the domestic market," it said in a statement.

However a ban on exporting sawn timber would remain in place, it said.

"Measures have been taken to address the current high level of environmental degradation resulting from the uncontrolled illegal harvesting and exploitation of timber currently taking place," it said.

The navy arrested early Wednesday seven people in Sierra Leonean waters with a boatload of more than 100 logs heading for neighbouring Guinea.

The European Union meanwhile voted Wednesday to outlaw illegal timber or products made from such wood, which makes up around one-fifth of all timber imports into the European Union, and to punish unscrupulous dealers.

Much of the illegally harvested wood comes from forested African countries.

West African nations such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, devastated by long, bloody civil wars, have been hard hit by illegal logging.

In Sierra Leone senior trade officer Mohamed Sillah told AFP the ban had been successful in stopping the export of illegal timber.

"Illegal smuggling of timber ... was prevalent mostly last year but when the ban was instituted, there was no known report of smuggling."

"During that period, the effect on the economy was hard-hitting as the government was deprived of export duties, taxes and all that. Because it had to do with smuggling, it was difficult to have an accurate costing," he said.

According to the United Nations, roughly 38 percent of Sierra Leone was forested in 2005.

The country lost roughly 10 percent of its forest cover since 1990, although deforestation rates rose following the end of civil conflict in 2001.

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